The dangers of Trump’s worldwide trade wars

By Ameen Izzadeen
Trade between nations makes them interdependent and lessens the propensity to war. The more trade any two nations have, the more peace will there be between them. Building peace is one of the goals of the World Trade Organisation, the premier international body set up in January 1995 to ensure free and fair trade between nations.
But instead of peace, we are now witnessing a world war or, to put it more precisely, a world trade war. Unlike in shock-and-awe hot wars, in economic wars, killer weapons such as bunker-busting missiles, banned white phosphorus, depleted uranium and napalm bombs are not used. Yet economic wars kill – kill millions. In Iraq during the decade-long United States-sponsored international sanctions, one million Iraqis, half of them children, died due to lack of medicine and food. Asked about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions, the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “This is a very hard choice, but the price… is worth it.”
The present world trade war has nothing to do with the WTO or its failure to build peace through free trade. Rather, it was solely the work of one man, Donald Trump, who appears to be thriving in chaos. Unfortunately, he is also the President of the United States and is increasingly proving that he is a misfit to govern a country that has produced great statesmen such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few.
The tentacles of his trade war have reached many fronts – China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Iran and, this week, Turkey, for he thinks trade wars are good and winnable.
Sounding more like a trade-war version of an Adolf Hitler, than a knee-jerk protectionist, Trump tweeted on March 2, 2018: “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore–we win big. It’s easy!”
Trump triggered what is termed by some analysts as the world history’s biggest trade war when he slapped in January a 25 percent tariff on imported steel from China, Europe, Canada and Mexico, prompting tit-for-tat measures from the affected countries. The escalation of the trade war is shaking the foundation of free trade.
Last month he imposed a further US$ 34 billion worth of tariff on imports from China. In retaliation, China also imposed US$ 34 billion worth of tariffs on US goods and warned Beijing would not hesitate to hit back dollar-for-dollar if Trump took further action.
If this was not enough, Trump this week targeted Turkey, imposing punitive duties on that country’s aluminium and steel exports. The measure was connected to Turkey’s refusal release a US preacher, who Turkey says is complicit in the 2016 botched coup attempt against the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government. Following Trump’s punitive measure, Turkey’s economy has taken a beating, with its currency, lira, losing 20 percent of its value.
Adding more chaos to the world trade order, Trump has reimposed sanctions on Iran. Apart from dealing a blow to Iran’s economy, the sanctions have also hit developing nations owing to soaring fuel prices. Last week, the Trump administration also imposed sanctions on Russia over the alleged nerve-agent poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury. Russia has described the sanctions as “a declaration of economic war” and warned of a fitting response.
Why is the US waging a trade war? Probably, Trump and his hardline advisors are caught up in a Thucydides trap, a term popularised by American political scientist Graham T Allison. Quoting Thucydides, the fifth century Athenian historian, Allison in a New York Times article last year explained that when a rising power – in this instance, China — causes fear in an established power – in this instance, the US — it escalates towards war. Thucydides wrote: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”
With the world powers being armed with planet-pulverising nuclear weapons which only guarantee mutually-assured destructions (MAD), the US cannot afford a military war with an equally powerful China. Hence the option is the economic war.
Since the end of World War II, the US had been the beacon of free trade. It scoffed at centrally controlled economic policies of the Soviet Union and other communist nations. Be it the historic Bretton Woods talks in 1944, the decision to end the gold standards in 1971, or the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) deliberations that led to the formation of the WTO, the US had hit out at protectionism and championed free trade and liberal monetary and economic policies. Many a time, Washington had accused Japan and China of deliberately devaluing their currencies and adopting unfair trade practices.
But today, under Trump, the US sees WTO, which it had helped set up, as a hostile organisation. “The WTO has been a disaster for this country,” Trump ranted in March. “It (WTO) has been great for China and terrible for the United States, and great for other countries,” he said.
Today, instead of the US, it is China which appears to be pushing for more open borders, with its Belt-and-Road Initiative being promoted as a world trade booster.
In China, policymakers, academics and the people see Trump’s trade war as part of Washington’s strategy to check China’s rise and urge the government to take tough countermeasures.
The currency war is, probably, one such countermeasure, though the yuan has suffered a nine-percent drop due to Trump’s trade war salvos. Undercutting the US dollar, countries such as China, Russia and Iran are increasingly doing business bypassing the dollar. China is considering a move to price oil in yuan linked to a gold-backed futures contract. The yuan officially became a world reserve currency in November 2015. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have signed an agreement to avoid the dollar in their transactions. To overcome hurdles related to US sanctions, countries such as India have decided to buy oil from Iran by paying in local currency.
These developments have posed a serious threat to the US dollar as a world currency. The consequences of the trade war and the currency war could be devastating not only to developing countries, but also to the US itself. In addition, a slowdown of China’s economy could generate worldwide tremors or lead to a global recession. Trump should wake up to these dangers.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Legitimate criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism

By Ameen Izzadeen
When Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, in the wee hours of July 19 passed a controversial law, declaring that Israel was exclusively a Jewish state, the passage of the bill made headlines but failed to generate much worldwide condemnation.
In any other democracy, including the United States, a bid to enact similar legislation will draw widespread denunciation. The new Israeli law undermines human dignity and upholds the superiority of Jewish citizens over its other citizens. It has been given the enshrined status of a Basic Law, underlying the principles of the State. Therefore, it cannot easily be repealed. The new law recognises “Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people” and reduces its Arab and Druze people to second class citizens.
Imagine if Sri Lanka’s parliament passes a law stating that Sri Lanka is exclusively a country for the Sinhala Buddhists. Within minutes, international condemnations will pour in. The United States and the European Union will withdraw trade concessions and warn of tough measures if the government fails to reverse the law. Sanctions will be slapped. Sri Lanka will be overnight reduced to a pariah state.
But Israel is often treated with kid gloves and allowed to get away scot free. It can kill a thousand unarmed Palestinians in one go and still strut about on the world stage, with the US patting it on the back and hailing it as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. When the abominable law was passed, there was not even a whimper of protest from the Donald Trump administration. Perhaps, Israel was emboldened by Trump’s move to recognise the whole of Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of Israel – a move that killed Palestinian peace hopes.
Expressing concern, the European Union issued a weak statement that hardly stood up to the depravity of the racist law. Much weaker was the statement the United Nations Secretary General’s office issued. “We reaffirm the United Nations’ respect for the sovereignty of states to define their constitutional character while emphasizing the need for all states to adhere to universal human rights principles, including the protection of minority rights,” said UNSG’s spokesman Farhan Haq.
The passage of the bill, on the contrary, warrants international isolation of Israel – just as South Africa had been during the apartheid years — and the reintroduction of the 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution which asserted that Zionism was a form of racism. The resolution had the support of the Non-Aligned Movement. In December 1991, with the Cold War coming to an end, the resolution was revoked, under pressure from and in awe of the US, which was emerging as the sole superpower or, sadly, as the global bully, unchallenged by any rival.
Israel’s Arabs and the Druze communities have challenged the law in the Israeli Supreme Court, but Zionist hardliners, including Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have warned of an earthquake if the courts were to uphold the petitions.
Against this backdrop, a major controversy has erupted in the British Labour Party, with party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has spoken in support of the Palestinians’ freedom cause, being slapped the anti-Semite label.
Corbyn’s problems began in April 2016 when Labour MP Naz Shah criticised Israel on social media posts and endorsed a suggestion that Israel be sent to the US. This was followed by former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s defence of Shah during a radio show. He added to the controversy by saying Hitler supported Zionism. He later resigned from the Labour Party, following his suspension.
These incidents and criticism of Israeli by several Labour activists saw Corbyn being accused of incompetence in dealing with anti-Semitism. In March this year, Jewish community leaders published an open letter accusing him of “siding with anti-Semites”. Although Corbyn had clarified matters saying he did not and would not support anti-Semitism, he remains vilified in the rightwing media. This is mainly because, Corbyn, in the true spirit of the traditional Labour, has been supporting the Palestinian cause, opposing Britain’s urge to bomb Syria and, domestically, pushing for radical socialist reforms aimed at uplifting the living standards of the working class.
Last month, amidst growing criticism, the Labour Party accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism in a bid to put the controversy to rest once and for all, but rightly did not agree to a stipulation which said criticism of Israel could be deemed anti-Semitism. The Labour Party argued that legitimate criticism of Israel could not be anti-Semitic.
Despite this principled stance, a section of the party wants Corbyn ousted. They are the rightwing members – the so-called Blairites or supporters of former Prime Minister Tony Blair who lied to the British people to launch the illegal war on Iraq in 2003, and who as the international community’s Middle East peace envoy did nothing but making millions of dollars through his private consultancy business targeted at the region’s despots.
The huge storm the criticism of Israel has created in British politics and the mild condemnations Israel’s apartheid law has evoked only underline the double standards the world has adopted in eliminating racism. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination reaffirms in its preamble that discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin is an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and is capable of disturbing peace and security among peoples and the harmony of persons living side by side even within one and the same State.
In a related controversy, Britain’s former foreign minister Boris Johnson has drawn criticism from Prime Minister Theresa May and rights groups for saying that Muslim women who wear burqas or Niqab look like letter boxes or bank robbers. May, while scolding him, said women should be free to wear the burqa if they chose to do so.
But this appears to be a rare case of condemnation of Islamophobia defined as “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims”. Often, in the name of freedom of expression, any mockery of Islam and its prophet is allowed in the so-called liberal and enlightened West, where academics and researchers are still prevented from questioning the Zionists’ narration of the Holocaust or Israel’s right to rob the Palestinians’ land.
True, anti-Semitism is bad and needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Holocaust is remembered not to allow Israel to oppress Palestinians and occupy their lands in violation of international law, but to prevent another Holocaust, irrespective of who the victims are. Sadly, the Palestinians are subjected to a subtle Holocaust, by Israel with the explicit support of the US.
If the strongest condemnation is reserved only in defence of Jewish dignity and is not forthcoming with similar vigour when other ethnic groups and religious communities are ridiculed and their dignity tarnished, then those who are issuing such condemnation are practising the worst form of r
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Nightmare of a US-Iran war, oil prices may soar to US$ 250 a barrel

By Ameen Izzadeen
When the United States president Donald Trump on Monday said in yet another quirky tweet that he was ready to meet the Iranian leader, the announcement generated hardly any vibe to arouse the excitement of the international community.
Iran is not averse to Trump’s suggestion for a summit meeting, but it is firm in its insistence that the US should return to the nuclear deal and lift sanctions.
Trump during a White House media briefing on Monday said he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions. “They want to meet, I’ll meet. Anytime they want,” he said, adding, “It’s good for the country, good for them, good for us, and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
Compare this statement with the one that led to the historic meeting between the US President and the North Korean leader in June this year. A lot of homework had been done, the consequences meticulously assessed and secret contacts established with Pyongyang before Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un was made public. And there was much for both sides to gain from the meeting promoted as a win-win summit by Trump supporters. Of course, Trump’s bold move pushed his popularity ratings up by several notches. For North Korean leader Kim, the summit offered a platform to showcase his impoverished but nuclear-armed nation as a world power on par with the US, though the reality is far from that.
But with regard to Iran, instead of enthusiasm on the part of the US, what is evident is callousness or political dishonesty. For, Trump’s offer amounted to a call for surrender to Iran and it smacked of the United States’ utter contempt for the Persian Gulf nation. Please note that the offer came just days after the maverick US President held out a threat of an all-out war against Iran, following Iranian President Rouhani’s warning of a ‘mother of all wars’.
True, he issued similar threats against North Korea even weeks before the June summit in Singapore. Trump ridiculed Kim as “Little Rocket Man’ and threatened him with the same fate Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi faced if the North Korean leader did not dismantle the nuclear programme.
Unlike North Korea, Iran is not a nuclear power. Iran cannot afford the luxury of upping the ante without the risk of precipitating a war with the US. Unlike North Korea whose nuclear weapons forced the US to set aside its superpower pride and meet Kim, Iran has no such trump cards. But it is not without its options, which, it has said, it will not hesitate to unleash if pushed to a corner.
The present crisis is not of Iran’s own making. It was triggered by Trump’s announcement in May of the US withdrawal from the 2015 seven-nation nuclear deal. The agreement, signed by the US, China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Iran, during US President’s Barack Obama’s second term in office, sought to curtail Teheran’s ability to develop weapons grade nuclear material. The US pullout from the deal despite pleas from its European allies, paved the way for the re-imposition of tough US sanctions which target Iran’s trade in gold, its energy, shipping and insurance sectors and the transactions of its central bank. The purpose was to deny Iran the much needed oil revenue to build up the economy after years of crippling United Nations and US sanctions.
Trump, who cherishes undoing what President Obama has done, wants the agreement renegotiated to curb Iran’s missiles programmes and involvement in regional conflicts. In other words, he wants to see a militarily weakened Iran.
It appears that he is making the demand on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The two US allies have been uncomfortable with Iran’s increasing influence in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The new US sanctions which will come into effect in November have already put Iran in an economic depression, as a result of which signs of growing unrest are already visible. Therefore, the government is desperate to take all measures necessary to overcome the crisis.
The other signatories to the Iran deal have said they would honour the agreement, but analysts believe that it is only a matter of time before the European nations and their big companies will crumble under pressure and stop trading with Iran, as they do not want to lose the much bigger US market.
It was against this backdrop that President Rouhani warned that if the US took measures to destroy Iran’s economy and thereby effect a regime change, it risked unleashing “the mother of all wars.”
In yet another warning, Iran’s leaders have said that if the country was denied its right to sell oil and improve its economy, then it may even impose a blockade of the Straits of Hormuz, through which a third of the world’s sea-borne oil passes every day. If this happens, analysts say world oil prices could shoot up to US$ 250 a barrel — a nightmarish situation which could ruin world economies and bring about untold hardships to the people in poor countries.
Of course, the US Defence Department has said its navy is capable of ensuring the freedom of navigation in the strait. But when Iran imposed a similar blockade during the nine-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the US could only take limited military action against Iran. During the blockade, Iranian attacks on tankers carrying Iraqi oil catapulted the oil prices to a new peak since the 1973 Arab oil boycott against the US.
Washington and Teheran, throughout post-World War history, have been friends at times, foes at times, and foes and friends at the same time. In 1953, the US engineered a coup in Iran to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddeq and instal the puppet Shah. A quarter century later, the 1979 Islamic revolution ousted the pro-American Shah and set up the Islamic Republic. Since then relations have plummeted to the lowest level following a series of development such as the Iranian students’ siege on the US embassy in Teheran, the Lebanese civil war and the United States’ outright support for Iraq during the nine-year Iran-Iraq war, during which Washington failed to condemn Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. But the highpoint was when a hostile US during the Ronald Reagan Presidency in the late 1980s arranged Iran to buy weapons from Israel and the profits were diverted to the Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua’s socialist government. The secret programme was called the Iran-Contra affair.
Given Trump’s unpredictability, it won’t be a surprise if he pulls out a surprise by meeting Iran halfway despite his commitments to Israel and Saudi Arabia, so that he could boast of producing an Iran deal much better than what Obama had signed. Will Iran agree? However, the international community should redouble its efforts to bring about a win-win solution and avert the possibility of a US-Iran military confrontation which could only spell further doom for the world economy in general and poor nations in particular.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Imran bowls out opposition, but faces bouncers

By Ameen Izzadeen
Dubbed by the losers as the dirtiest election in Pakistan’s tryst with democracy, Wednesday’s parliamentary and provincial assembly polls were in many respects significant, for they have redrawn Pakistan’s political landscape for cohabitation between civilian and military authorities.
Backed by the powerful military, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan will be the next prime minister of Pakistan after his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) or Movement for Justice emerged the winner in the election which the other parties saw as flawed and blatantly rigged.
But it all depends on developments in the next few days. The Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People’s Party led by Bilawal Bhutto, the son of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and other opposition parties have united in rejecting the election results. It is not sure whether the elected opposition members would take their oaths or form a powerful opposition alliance to deny a comfortable majority to PTI in Parliament and in provincial assemblies. Citing the election officials’ move to bar polling agents from being present at counting centres and a host of other irregularities, the opposition parties have called the whole election process outrageously farcical. The polls officials, however, attributed the extraordinary delay in announcing the results to a computer software glitch.
At the centre of the controversy is the country’s powerful military.
If politicians think, as the famous French statesman Georges Clemenceau, who led his country during World War I, did, that “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men”, the military men could say, as the famous French General and President Charles de Gaulle is reported to have said, that politics is too serious a matter to entrust to politicians.
Nowhere is such a military mindset more evident than in Pakistan. Since Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s death in September 1948, a year after Pakistan was carved out of the British Raj, the military had arrogated to itself the power to decide on matters relating to the nation’s survival as an independent state for the subcontinent’s Muslims, more so against the backdrop of hostilities with India over Kashmir.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s polls, which were also marred by the deaths of more than 200 people in violence and terror attacks, it became clearer that democracy was still largely an illusion, amidst allegations that the military was pre-rigging the democratic process to prevent a PML-N victory. But one cannot downplay Khan’s victory in Wednesday’s polls, for however powerful the military is, it simply cannot influence millions of voters, especially in Punjab, the Sharif stronghold, where Khan’s PTI had fare relatively well.
Khan’s party has a relatively good governance record in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, earlier known as the North West Frontier Province. The thrice-married Khan is a green politician. He launched a highly ambitious billion-tree tsunami to save Pakistan from the harmful effects of global warming; a project that reminds us of his cancer hospital campaign decades ago. He has been spearheading an anti-corruption crusade against the Sharif government. Sharif, tainted by Panama Papers exposés, is now serving a ten-year prison term after he was convicted on July 6 by a court of corruption charges stemming from his ownership of four luxury apartments in London.
The military has denied the allegations that it was manipulating the elections. However, the allegations, perhaps, immortalise a graffiti that appeared on a Karachi wall in 1988 soon after Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister, ending a decade of military rule by General Zia-ul-Haq. In typical television language, the graffiti read, “Sorry for the disruption due to democracy, the usual martial law will resume soon”.
Yet, democracy has survived, since military ruler Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008 following people’s power protests countrywide. However, in view of the allegations against the military, the fact that there has been in the past ten years democracy worked in Pakistan, which has seen 33 years of military rule in its 71-year post-independence existence, does not mean that democracy in Pakistan has come of age. Rather, it points to an uneasy relationship between the civilian administration and the military authorities — a continuous power struggle.
It is said even when Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1988, the Cabinet meetings took place under the watchful eyes of the military. Her government and governments that followed did not enjoy powers to decide on foreign and defence policies. They were exclusively matters for the military.
During the past ten years of ‘uninterrupted’ democracy, more so during the past five years under Sharif, who experienced the pain and shame of being thrown out of office by Musharraf’ military coup in 1999, there had been attempts by the civilian government to assert its authority.
Sharif’s disputes with the military came out in to the open when, in October 2016, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper published an investigative article on the government’s conflict with the military over measures to combat terrorism.
The article by journalist Cyril Almeida said the Sharif government, in a blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning, had urged the military to support measures taken by the state against banned militant groups. Since the exposé, known as the Dawnleaks, the military, it is alleged, began a witch-hunt on the media, especially the Dawn group.
It is also alleged that the military had coaxed several of Sharif’s Muslim League politicians to join Khan’s PTI, while there are also allegations that there is some collaboration between the military and sections of the judiciary in putting Sharif behind bars ahead of the elections.
Probably what prevented the military from overthrowing Sharif’s hostile government was the fear of public protests. After all, it was the people’s power protests that brought down the regime of military strongman Musharraf. Another factor was the 2016 botched coup in Turkey where, the people braved guns and tanks to defend democracy, when a section of the military staged a coup. Pakistan’s generals certainly do not want to go into history, disgraced and disliked by the people. But it is also a reality in Pakistan that the military, which is said to be running large businesses, would not surrender its power completely to a civilian authority.
Khan’s party, which has already struck bonhomie with the military, needs to make some kind of accommodation with the military, if it wants to survive. But the challenges Khan, a philosophy, political science and economics graduate from the Oxford University, faces are gigantic. He has pledged to create a new Pakistan, free of corruption.
He needs to begin his new innings with radical moves to lift the economy from the abyss it has fallen into. Besides tackling bouncers from an opposition alliance led by the PML-N, Khan, a supporter of China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, has to deal with a hostile India, terror outfits and a nagging US President Donald Trump who has accused Pakistan of taking hundreds of millions of US dollars in aid and doing little or nothing in combating terrorism.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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War agenda behind Trump’s demand to NATO

By Ameen Izzadeen
United States President Donald Trump is a liability to the transatlantic defence cooperation that started with the US entry into World War 1 and evolved into a formal treaty after World War II. The US entry was the decisive factor in the victory of the allies.
Since the end of World War II and throughout the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has been at the pivot of Europe’s defence to protect itself from the now defunct Soviet Union, though, at the same time, the alliance effectively served the US interest in containing the spread of Communism in Europe.
The organisation came into force in 1949 at a time when European nations were struggling to rebuild their economies and militaries. The end of World War II signalled the beginning of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union occupying much of Eastern Europe. The prevention of Soviet expansion into Europe and elsewhere was the main issue US policy makers confronted. If the economies of these war-ravaged European nations crumbled further, the US feared that the people would embrace communism.
To overcome the issue that was threatening the post-war US hegemony, the then US Secretary of State George Marshall proposed that the US offer billions in aid to Europe. Western European countries accepted the US aid and went on to record a remarkable economic recovery. In the meantime, a series of Soviet-led moves unsettled the US. The key among them was the blockade the Soviets imposed on West Berlin. Amidst fears of a major conflict, the US and its allies organised a massive airlift of supplies to Berlin. After 318 days, during which allied planes carried out 275,000 missions to transport 1.5 million tons of supplies, the Soviets relented and ended the siege, though Germany remained divided till October 1990. This was largely the backdrop that led to the formation of NATO.
Now for the first time in the seven decades since its formation, the alliance faces a threat from within. In what is seen as yet another point of contention between allies, Trump is asking NATO members to pay more for the protection that the US gives them through NATO.
Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has irritated US allies, first by withdrawing from the Paris climate deal and then Iran nuclear pact, then by starting a tariff war with allies including Canada and European Union nations, then by scuttling the G7 meeting in Canada and now by undermining the importance of NATO, a defence alliance which has served the US interest more than the interest of its other members.
But judging from Trump’s statements and tweets, it appears that he believes NATO largely serves Europe’s defence interests. He also believes that the US should stop looking at Russia as a foe. During the presidential campaign, he had said he would be able to get along with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s dismal view of the 29-member NATO probably brings out the business animal in him. He is looking at the alliance in terms of profits and losses. One who benefits more should pay more. This appears to be the logic. He said the alliance was obsolete and costing the US too much money.
“NATO was set up at a different time. NATO was set up when we were a richer country. We’re not a rich country anymore. We’re borrowing, we’re borrowing all of this money…NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO but we’re spending a lot of money. Number one, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed. I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved,” candidate Trump said in 2016, drawing much applause from his ’America first’ supporters.
In deference to Trump’s stance, NATO members, especially Germany, France, Spain and even Belgium, have agreed to increase their defence expenditure to 2 percent of the GDP by 2024. But Trump on Wednesday told the NATO summit in Brussels that Canada and European NATO members — which last year spent on defence 0.55 to 2.6 percent of their GDPs — should increase the defence budget to 4 percent of the GDP – a 650 percent increase in the case of Luxemberg. This is while the US spends only 3.5 percent of its GDP on defence.
He is in Britain today amidst huge public protests before he will travel to Finland for a meeting on Monday with Putin, with whom Trump’s chemistry is bubblier than his chemistry with his European allies such as Germany’s Angela Merkel. He berated Germany, saying it was “totally controlled by Russia” and added in a tweet on Thursday saying, “On top of it all, Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia. Not acceptable! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”
Increasing the military expenditure is certainly a crime in a socio-economic sense. If this additional 2 percent Trump is seeking is spent on agriculture research aimed at increasing the world food supplies, health, education and eliminating poverty, the world will be certainly a better place to live in. But the Trump strategy is aimed at boosting the US arms industry. Additional money for defence means, more weapons purchases from US companies and more wars.
In this context, it is in the interest of world peace, we say that NATO should be disbanded now. It should have been dissolved when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were disbanded. The organisation has, since the collapse of the Cold War, intervened in many conflicts: the Balkan conflict that erupted with the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2011 Libyan war, to name a few.
During the last months of President Barack Obama, NATO undertook a massive military buildup in Russia’s neighbourhood. The move exacerbated Russia-NATO relations that had already been strained by Russia’s wars in Georgia and Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, the US threats to set up missile defence shields in Eastern Europe and NATO’s eastward expansion.
Against the backdrop of policy differences between the US and Europe, moves towards forming an exclusive European defence alliance have gained momentum in recent years. In the past, Germany and France had pushed for an EU defence arrangement but had abandoned their efforts following US objections.
With Trump flirting with Russia, which is said to have helped him to win the presidential election, an EU defence arrangement is in order. Last year, the EU nations formed the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) aimed at close defence cooperation through joint projects.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Indo-Pacific Command a threat to peace in Indian Ocean

By Ameen Izzadeen
On May 31st this year, at a solemn ceremony in Hawaii, the United States military renamed its Pacific Command as the “Indo-Pacific Command”. The move, though significant in many respects, has not generated as much debate as it should have in the South Asian region.
In a tweet to mark the occasion, the US embassy in New Delhi said: “In symbolic nod to India, United States renamed its @PacificCommand the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Looking forward to higher levels of #USIndiaDefence cooperation.”
This week, testifying before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Alaina Teplitz, the ambassador-nominee for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said the two island nations were important for the wider security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.
She noted that both Sri Lanka and the Maldives are positioned astride key shipping lanes that connect the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, the free navigation of which is vital to US economic and security interests. Teplitz said Washington must also be mindful of the economic and commercial opportunities each country afforded, and the importance of working with them to maintain a rules-based international order.
The mentioning of the Indo-Pacific region in her testimony was deliberate. It was an attempt to further popularize or formalise the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, while her call for a rules-based international order is a direct swipe at China, which is being accused by the US and its Asian allies of wrongfully claiming sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea and of building artificial islands for military use in violation of international law.
The Donald Trump administration, which is seen to be opposing everything that was Barack Obama, has fully embraced the term Indo-Pacific, which the Obama administration showed some reluctance to formalise.
After a meeting between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump in the White House in June last year, a joint communiqué described the two leaders as “stewards” for the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. During Trump’s East Asia tour in November last year, the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ figured so liberally in statements that it exposed hurried and deliberate efforts to win recognition for the new region. That the term is also being liberally used in political discourses in Japan is no coincidence. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a key architect of the concept.
Last month, addressing the Shangri La Dialogue conference in Singapore, Modi defined the Indo-Pacific region as “a natural region” that stretches from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of America. While emphasising that India’s acceptance of the Indo-Pacific region was not directed against any nation, he said the building of a “stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region” was an “important pillar” of India’s partnership with the US.
With the formal announcement of the Indo-Pacific command, the Indian Ocean region is set to become a militarised zone where the big powers will flex their military muscles sooner than later. The new command together with the US Central Command (for Middle East), the African Command and the European Command provides around-the-world connectivity to the US military.
The Indo-Pacific Command is a blow to the Indian Ocean peace zone concept. In the 1970s, Sri Lanka had been in the forefront of global efforts to declare the Indian Ocean as a peace zone and had opposed superpower military presence in the region. Although the Soviet Union was supportive of the Sri Lankan initiative, the US, which had a major military base in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, ignored Colombo’s call, which was then fully backed by the Non-Aligned Movement.
It is significant to note that India has veered away from its ‘middle-path’ foreign policy and has cooperated with the US in the renaming of the Pacific Command, in keeping with its redefined geostrategic objective of containing a rising China, with whom it has several territorial disputes, the latest being last year’s Doklam crisis on the Bhutan border. India’s new policy is a major shift from its Indira doctrine which was designed to keep the US out of the seas surrounding India. In keeping with the doctrine – named after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – India policed and dominated the South Asian part of the Indian Ocean. Now a combined Indo-US effort will go into the policing of this part of Indian Ocean, where concerns have been raised by India over China’s increasing naval movements including the sighting of nuclear submarines.
The move further consolidates the US strategy of making India the lynchpin in containing China – and India, it appears, cherishes the importance the US gives it. India is now, to all intents and purposes, part of the United States’ Asia Nexus. The partnership takes their defence ties to the next level, two years after they signed a logistics defence pact to allow the militaries of both countries to use each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.
Besides, India is a key member of a tri-nation defence arrangement, also involving the US and Japan. The three countries conduct annual military exercises on a mega scale. Called ‘Malabar’, this year’s exercise, which took place, significantly, a week after the ‘Indo-Pacific Command’ renaming ceremony, was held in the seas off the Pacific Island of Guam where the US maintains its biggest offshore military base. Also part of this arrangement was Australia. However, of late, Canberra has scaled down its involvement, perhaps in deference to its growing trade and investment ties with China.
In international relations, alliances are important because power is also assessed on the basis of the military alliances a nation makes. However much China catches up with the US in terms of economic power, military parity and advancement in science and technology, it still lags behind in making military alliances with strategically important nations. This is why it remains edged out in the contest for the Indo-Pacific region. Despite growing economic ties with China, most ASEAN countries view China with suspicion and will not abandon the US military protection.
The only South Asian country which China can consider as a strategic ally is Pakistan, although Islamabad also maintains close military relations with Washington. Countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives in South Asia, on the one hand, are much in need of China’s development aid and investments, and, on the other, are wary of getting caught in the cold war between China and the Indo-US military alliance. It is diplomatic tightrope walking for these countries.
China sees the formalisation of the Indo-Pacific Command as part of the US strategy to instigate China and India into a long-term conflict. The Global Times, China’s official English language mouthpiece, sees India as having fallen into a US trap aimed at strengthening Washington’s control of the Indian Ocean.
The Indo-Pacific military command appears to be bellicose and therefore Indian Ocean nations should be wary of the consequences. The Indian Ocean littoral states – members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation – need to meet soon to discuss moves to stop the militarisation of the Indian Ocean. India owes these nations a commitment that it will not allow its Indo-Pacific partnership with the US to threaten the peace of the Indian Ocean.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Harming children: Trump with a millstone around his neck

By Ameen Izzadeen
The United States President Donald Trump has drawn international condemnation for his preposterous and inhuman order to separate children from the families whom his administration describes as “illegal immigrants”. On Wednesday, the President relented under international pressure and disapproval even from First Lady Melania and daughter Ivanka. The international fury, pleas from family members and even sharp criticism from close allies prompted him to sign an executive order promising to “keep families together” in migrant detention centres.
The business tycoon turned President said he had been swayed by images of children who have been taken from parents who are being prosecuted for illegal border-crossing.
“I did not like the sight of families being separated,” he said, but added the administration would continue its “zero tolerance policy” of illegal migration.
Yet his reverse decree does not offer relief to families already separated by the policy. Thousands of children, including babies are sleeping on concrete slabs in tents. Most of the children in these camps along the Mexican border are clueless as to where their parents are. Secret tapes that have recorded the disturbed children’s cries could even move a stone-hearted monster.
If only Trump could close his eyes and reflect on the issue, he would certainly have realised that migration has been a constant feature in human history. Only a moron will deny that since time immemorial, humans have been migrating from place to place to survive. We all are children of migrants. The out-of-Africa theory suggests that two million years ago, Homo erectus, the archaic humans, began to disperse within Africa – and some 70,000 years ago, Homo sapiens began moving out of Africa. Within 30,000 years they had spread across Asia, Oceania and Europe. And the process continues.
Trump himself is a grandson of a Bavarian (German) migrant. His grandfather, Friedrich Trump, arrived in New York with a single suitcase in 1885 at the age of 16. He made a fortune in the gold rush in the west and opened hotels that cater to the hard working and hard drinking miners. He later returned to New York and started a small property business. That was the beginning of the Trump story – a story of how a grandson of a Bavarian immigrant became the president of the United States.
Moreover, Trump’s wife is also a migrant from Solvenia. Media reports say there is a wealth of evidence to prove she was an undocumented immigrant.
All Americans, including the native people, are migrants or descendants of migrants. ‘The natives’ are the first to occupy the continent. The Europeans came 15,000 years later. If the early waves of migrations are fair enough, why can’t we treat the present wave of migration – from whichever part of the planet — as a natural phenomenon? Don’t build walls; build bridges between people, Mr. Trump. Please recognise that the right to migrate to a safer place in face of economic marginalisation or political persecution is a human right.
Nation-state borders are man-made barriers created out of the ravenous reluctance to share Mother Earth’s resources with fellow human beings who are in need. This is xenophobia – the fear of the other.
On Easter Sunday this year, Trump in utter disregard for Christian charity, tweeted: “….’Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW….” This week in another tweet, he said, “illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, [are] pour[ing] into and infest[ing] our Country.” Infesting? Isn’t he calling the immigrants animals or insects?
His policy of separating the children from their migrant parents drew criticism from Pope Francis on Wednesday, which was International Refugees day. The Pontiff said he supported the statements made by US Catholic bishops who called the separation of children from their parents “immoral” and “contrary to our Catholic values.”
Even though some 80 percent of Evangelical Christians are known to have supported Trump at the 2016 elections, he needs to remember Jesus Christ’s dire warning that anyone causes harm to children should be thrown into the deepest ocean with a millstone tied around his neck.
We are human beings, but being human means being merciful which in turn is a divine quality. Trump’s policy of harming children is far from being human. The world in a chorus decried his policy as “unacceptable”. The American Academy of Paediatrics called it “child abuse”, Amnesty International said it is “nothing short of torture”, and the United Nations denounced it as “despicable” and an “unconscionable” violation of human rights.
Some compared the Trump policy to the massacre of the ‘native Americans’ by white Europeans; some likened it to the internment of the Japanese during World War II. Others saw a parallel in the Nazi policy. Just as the Nazi Gestapo came for the Jews who were to be sent to concentration camps, Trump’s border guards snatched the children away from their parents, showing no remorse.
Mind you, this is happening in the 21st century – the era of knowledge; the era where science has taken us beyond our galaxy to have a peep at the domains beyond the black holes. And this is happening at a time when a nation’s degree of civilisation is assessed by its commitment to liberty, equality, fraternity and Human Rights.
The US has long lost the moral upper hand to preach human rights. Its constitution may be described as the best man-made political document in human history, but its foreign policy, since it assumed the world’s leadership after World War II, has been a stink. Its commitment to human rights is a farce. Like a rogue state, it has observed International law mainly in the breach. In Central Asia, the US supported dictators despite their horrendous human rights records. In Asia, the US troops killed some three million people in wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1960s and 1970s. More than half a million Iraqi children died due to US-sponsored sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s because the sanctions prevented Iraq from buying life-saving medicines.
The US continues to cheer on Israel as the Zionist state, exercising a culture of impunity, kills unarmed Palestinian protesters. The US even uses its veto power to protect Israel, easily one of the worst human rights violators in the world today.
While the US practises Nazi policies at home, commits war crimes abroad and encourages Israeli human rights violations, it had the cheek to accuse on Tuesday the United Nations Human Rights Council of being a “cesspool of political bias”. US envoy Nikki Haley called the UNHRC a “hypocritical” body that “makes a mockery of human rights”.
Well, in a way, the withdrawal suggests that the US has got out of the kitchen because it cannot stand the heat. Perhaps, it is Good Riddance of Bad Rubbish. Flushed of protectors of human rights violators, the UNHRC will be less putrid. The US might as well leave the UN too, so that there will be justice for the oppressed people like the Palestinians.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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