This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy)

Who Governs Britain?

Henry Mance

Financial Times

On August 29 2013, the British submarine HMS Tireless was somewhere in the Mediterranean, ready to go to battle. But unusually, its commanders were watching the House of Commons.

MPs were debating whether to authorise strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Tracking events in parliament via the BBC website, the submarine’s commanders realised, before any order came through, that they would not be firing cruise missiles after all.

The Syria debate was the first time since the American war of independence that a British government had lost a vote on military action. Mindful of how little scrutiny had been applied to Tony Blair’s blueprint to invade Iraq in 2003, many MPs had wanted to avoid the same mistake. Some hadn’t wished to block strikes on Syria altogether, just to force David Cameron to revise his plan. Instead they not only inadvertently stopped the UK going to war: they also caused Barack Obama to abandon the US’s own plans to bomb Syria, leaving Assad’s regime free to commit further atrocities. (Read more)


Revealed: EU war-gaming for fall of May’s government

Daniel Boffey, Michael Savage and Toby Helm

The Guardian

The EU is war-gaming for the fall of Theresa May amid a complete collapse in confidence in the prime minister after a week of chaos over Brexit, a leaked document seen by the Observer reveals.

In the run-up to a crucial summit of EU leaders where May will ask for a delay to Brexit, Brussels fears there is little hope that she will succeed in passing her deal this week and is preparing itself for a change of the guard in Downing Street.

A diplomatic note of a meeting of EU ambassadors and senior officials reveals an attempt to ensure that any new prime minister cannot immediately unpick the withdrawal agreement should May be replaced in the months ahead. Some hardline Brexiters want to replace her with a leader who will back a harder split with Brussels. (Read more)


It’s Time to Confront the Threat of Right-Wing Terrorism

John Cassidy

New Yorker

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the twenty-eight-year-old Australian who allegedly carried out a racially motivated gun massacre, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, appeared in court on Saturday morning and was charged with one count of murder. According to a report from the New Zealand Herald, Tarrant “appeared in white prison clothing, with manacled hands, and barefoot. He smirked when media photographed him in the dock, flanked by two police officers.” He didn’t enter a plea and was remanded in custody. The court hearing, at the Christchurch district court, was closed to the public, but the judge allowed some members of the media to report on the proceedings.

As they were taking place, surgeons were still operating on some of the victims of the shootings, which occurred at two mosques, and the confirmed death toll rose to forty-nine. More horrifying eyewitness accounts emerged, and the whole of New Zealand, a remote island nation of about 4.9 million people that had only thirty-five murders in all of 2017, was in a state of deep shock. “I honestly thought somebody was carrying a water pistol—this is New Zealand, you know—or a showing of a pellet gun or something,” Omar Nabi, a Christchurch man whose father was shot dead at one of the two mosques that were attacked, told reporters. “We feel safe here because it’s multicultural. We’re accepted no matter who we are.” Tragically, it took just one heavily armed fanatic to upset this equilibrium. (Read more)


Trumpism Comes to Brazil

Roberto Simon and Brian Winter

Foreign Affairs

It was early fall in southern Florida, and a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 gathered at a steakhouse to see a right-wing presidential candidate whom most experts were dismissing as too radical, divisive, and inexperienced to win office.

The candidate was not Donald Trump but Jair Bolsonaro, a retired Brazilian army captain and longtime member of congress whose tough talk about corruption, praise for Brazil’s former military dictatorship, and promises to give police “carte blanche” to kill drug traffickers and other suspected criminals were, by October 2017, already beginning to propel him upward in polls. Many in the crowd had themselves fled Brazil’s spiraling violence and the worst recession in its modern history, which had caused the economy to shrink nearly ten percent on a per capita basis from 2014 to 2017. The 300,000-strong diaspora in Florida, like many of their relatives back home, were hungry for the most anti-establishment figure they could find. (Read more)


Syria’s eight years of war have changed the world beyond recognition

Kareem Shareen

The National

Eight years of war and upheaval, half a million dead and millions more displaced, countless wounded and hundreds of chemical attacks.

The story of a revolution undone. Most Syrians who marched out onto the streets in 2011 to protest the Assad dynasty’s brutality had no inkling of what was to come. Inspired by protests in Egypt and Tunisia, they overcame a generational barrier of fear of public dissent.

Then the whole world conspired to crush them.

The picture today is one in which the nation’s president Bashar Al Assad and his Iranian and Russian allies have prevailed over a fractious opposition, that was undermined from within by factionalism and the rise of brutal jihadist groups, and from without by the regime’s impunity and the international community’s abandonment of core ideals. (Read more)


This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Poster for Women's Day, March 8, 1914, demanding voting rights for women.

(Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

The Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day


In 1987, March was designated as Women’s History Month in the United States. The month of March was chosen because it incorporated International Women’s Day, March 8th. The story of how International Women’s Day came to be, however, is convoluted to say the least.

As historian Temma Kaplan writes, International Women’s Day has its origins in socialism and the conditions of working women. Kaplan acknowledges the importance of secular communal holidays for nineteenth-century socialists, communists, and anarchists, citing Bastille Day, May Day, and various anniversaries of the Paris Commune. These holidays were more about “the solidification of a sense of community” than the actual date they fell on. That said, it’s worth noting how oddly complicated the history of this holiday is, complete with invented backstories and shifting dates. Here is a rough chronology. (Read more)


Misjudging the military: Guaidó, Trump, and the long shadow of Venezuela’s civil-military alliance

Asa Cusack

LSE Blogs

One month on from Juan Guaidó’s decision to declare himself acting president of Venezuela in parallel to President Nicolás Maduro, the country remains in a strange and dangerous limbo.

Guaidó has unified an opposition prone to fragmentation, received recognition from scores of foreign countries, and gained the support of various international institutions. But despite his offer of an amnesty for military personnel transferring their allegiance to his presidency, only a handful of Venezuela’s thousands of generals have made the switch. Even a major standoff over allowing US aid into the country on February 23 saw only a small number of defections by low-ranking officials.

So what went wrong? In short, Guaidó’s plan to remove Maduro with military help was undermined by his misjudgment of military perceptions of the opposition and the resilience of Venezuela’s decades-old civil-military alliance. But this should not be seen as bad news. Military action of any kind, internal or external, would be fraught with danger in Venezuela’s volatile situation. A negotiated transition towards free elections offers a far better way forward. (Read more)


The caliphate is a hellscape of smoke and fire – Isis has nowhere left to go

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian

There is a flash of light in the dark town as an airstrike hits an Islamic State weapons depot. A few seconds later, a ball of flame engulfs the entire neighbourhood. The sonic boom sends shockwaves through Baghuz, shaking the ground miles away, and for a second everything and everyone is stunned into silence. Then the artillery fire starts up again.

Five years after Isis swept across Syria and Iraq, all that remains of the “caliphate” that at its peak stretched across two countries and controlled 10 million people is a handful of streets in a bend of the Euphrates river running through this desert town, which will be retaken in the next few days. (Read more)


Officials were ready for Brexit in the past. How different could things have been if they had prepared this time round?

Lindsay Aqui

The Telegraph

‘Nobody in Whitehall or Westminster yet has a grasp of what needs to be done, let alone how to go about doing it.’ This damning verdict of the UK government’s failure to plan for Brexit was published by the Financial Times shortly after the 2016 European Union (EU) referendum. There had been some limited planning undertaken by the Treasury and the Bank of England to counteract extreme market volatility.

However, as the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee and Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee makes clear, there was no comprehensive effort to design a strategy for leaving the EU.

Both committees criticised this decision in part because of the precedent set by the referendum in 1975. When Harold Wilson proposed a national vote on the UK’s membership of what was then called the European Community, the Labour government engaged in an extensive contingency planning exercise. It should be said that the two referendums took place in different contexts. (Read more)


12th March – Happy Independence Day

Satya Gunput

His Name is Satya

‘Let June 23rd go down in our history as our independence day.’

– Nigel Farage, 24th June 2016

The irony of Britain searching for an independence day would not be lost on many around the world. Sixty two countries, at the last count, have an independence day from Britain – a Guinness World Record for ‘Most countries to have gained independence from the same country.’ Dubai may have the Burj Khalifa for the moment, but Britain is in no danger of losing its world record for the foreseeable future.

However on Monday, an asterisk was added to Britain’s world record. At the Peace Palace in the Hague, the International Court of Justice – the judicial body of the United Nations – ruled that the ‘the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed.’ The advisory ruling handed down by the court referred specifically to the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago prior to Mauritian Independence in 1968. While the rest of Mauritius became independent, the Chagos Archipelago remained under British administration. The court concluded that the UK had ‘an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible,’ and ‘complete the decolonization of Mauritius.’ (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Adam McCauley)

A Clash Is Coming Over America’s Place in the World

Stephen Wertheim

New York Times

In the past several months, a meaningful debate has finally started to emerge over America’s role in the world. Politicians and analysts — left, right and center — are conceding that longstanding mistakes have brought the United States to an uncertain moment. Provoked by President Trump, they are concluding that the bipartisan consensus forged in the 1990s — in which the United States towered over the world and, at low cost, sought to remake it in America’s image — has failed and cannot be revived.

But the agreement ends there. Foreign policy hands are putting forward something like opposite diagnoses of America’s failure and opposite prescriptions for the future. One camp holds that the United States erred by coddling China and Russia, and urges a new competition against these great power rivals. The other camp, which says the United States has been too belligerent and ambitious around the world, counsels restraint, not another crusade against grand enemies. (Read more)


A second Brexit referendum is now essential (£)

Martin Wolf

Financial Times

Theresa May’s aim is to convert fear of a no-deal Brexit into acceptance of her bad deal, which would leave the UK at the EU’s mercy. In the end, the rhetoric about “taking back control” has come down to a choice between suicide and vassalage. This march of folly needs to be stopped, for the UK’s sake and Europe’s. The only politically acceptable way to do this is via another referendum. That is risky. But it would be better than sure disaster.

Let us count the ways in which what is now happening is quite insane. In just over a month, the UK might suddenly exit from the EU. But the government and business are unprepared for such a departure: to take one example, the government is still fighting over what farm tariffs to impose. Such a no-deal Brexit would damage the UK — and the EU. If a no-deal exit did happen, negotiations would need to restart at once, but in a far more poisonous and, for the UK, more unfavourable context. (Read more)


Algeria gambles on old captain to chart new waters

Simon Speakman Cordall


The Feb. 10 announcement that 81-year-old Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would seek a fifth term in office has confirmed and confounded expectations in equal measure.

Few would deny that the incumbent’s health is poor. Since suffering from a devastating stroke in 2013, he has rarely appeared in public. Rumors of ill health are rife. In 2017, the abrupt cancellation of a diplomatic visit by Angela Merkel was enough to spark rumors of the president’s death.

However, after nearly two decades in power, the announcement of Bouteflika’s fifth bid for the presidency provides further evidence of the Algerian leadership’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding the country’s stability. Faced with the potentially destabilizing conflict between maintaining a generous subsidy package at home and falling hydrocarbon prices and shifting market tastes abroad, it is not yet clear how well equipped Algiers’ entrenched status quo may be to navigate the stormy weather ahead. (Read more)


Kashmir: India and Pakistan’s escalating conflict will benefit Narendra Modi ahead of elections

Sita Bali

The Conversation

Tensions in the Kashmir region were already building after more than 40 Indian troops were recently killed by a suicide bomber. India’s “pre-emptive strike” over the disputed border on Tuesday – the first of its kind by India since it went to war with Pakistan in 1971 – has escalated the situation further. India said it had targeted a terrorist training camp and accused Pakistan of violating a 2003 ceasefire, while Pakistan now claims to have shot down two Indian fighter jets.

The origins of the Kashmir conflict lie in British imperial disengagement from the subcontinent. At independence in 1947, the unpopular Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir was faced with invasion by Pakistani tribesmen. He turned to India for help, signing the treaty of accession that took Kashmir into the Indian Union. India sent troops to Kashmir and so began the first war between India and Pakistan. (Read more)


Why Jeremy Corbyn’s media-bashing is Trumpian – and dangerous for democracy

Helen Lewis

New Statesman

As you may have noticed some of the mainstream media are slightly hostile and critical,” the politician tells a rally of the faithful in Broxtowe. They laugh, indulgently. “They’re very unkeen on relating to the issues people face.”

He decides to single out one media organisation that has particularly displeased him: “I did an interview with Sky last night. It was 14 minutes, the interview. We got to, I think, minute 12, before I intervened and said, ‘Is there any chance that anybody other than an MP could be referred to in any of your questions?’” The crowd are clapping heartily by this point. “And we could actually talk about the homeless, the poverty, the hospital waiting lists.” (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Peter Strain for Politico)

UK awaits its Brexit Napoleon

Tom McTague


LONDON — Don’t get too comfortable, we have not even reached the Great Terror phase of the Brexit revolution yet.

In the bars and tea rooms of the Palace of Westminster, Conservative MPs have begun drawing playful comparisons between Britain’s chaotic exit from the European Union and the decades-long convulsion sparked by the French Revolution.

Roles have been assigned to leading Brexiteers. Michael Gove as Brissot, the hard-line republican who compromises to enter government and is the first to face the guillotine; Boris Johnson as Danton, the great orator who outlasts Brissot but also falls to the mob; and then there’s Jacob Rees-Mogg as Robespierre, the arch radical pursuing a “Republic of Virtue” but who also eventually faces the chop himself. (Read more)

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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy


Trump Is Launching a New, Terrifying Arms Race

Michael T. Klare


Ostensibly, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, announced on February 1, is intended to coerce Russia into admitting that it has violated the accord and then to destroy any weapons so identified. But the closer one looks, the more obvious it becomes that administration hawks, led by National Security Adviser John Bolton, have no interest in preserving the arms-control agreement but rather seek to embark on an arms race with Russia and China—a dynamic that will take us into dangerous territory not visited since the Cold War.

According to the INF Treaty, “intermediate-range nuclear forces” are nuclear-capable ballistic or cruise missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, or approximately 310 to 3,400 miles. These can be fired from ships, submarines, planes, or ground-based launchers; the treaty, however, covers the land-based variants only. When it was signed in 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union had deployed some 1,293 of these weapons, mostly in Europe. (Read more)

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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Meredith Kohut/New York Times)

An Urgent Call for Compromise in Venezuela

Francisco Rodríguez and Jeffrey D. Sachs

New York Times

Over the past two weeks, the United States, with the support of several countries in Latin America, has recognized the government of Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, and given it control over the country’s oil revenues. By doing so, it has entered a dangerous game of chicken with the Venezuelan military: Abandon President Nicolás Maduro or face the devastation of the Venezuelan economy. The message is stark: Change regime or starve.

The United States is acting with typical bravado, assuming that all will be over soon: Mr. Maduro will leave, sanctions will be lifted and Venezuela and the United States will benefit. Mr. Maduro is widely despised inside and outside Venezuela, so many countries are falling in line with the Trump administration’s gambit. (Read more)


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This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk through the House of Commons towards the House of Lords in London on June 21, 2017. (Kristy Wigglesworth/AFP/Getty Images)

(Image: Kristy Wrigglesworth/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s Officially Nobody in Charge of Britain

Stephen Paduano

Foreign Policy

Who is in charge of the clattering train?

The axles creak and the couplings strain.

The pace is hot, and the points are near,

And sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear;

And signals flash through the night in vain.

Who is in charge of the clattering train?

As Europe’s engines of war grew louder and hotter, it was this section from Edwin Milliken’s 1890 poem “Death and His Brother Sleep” that Winston Churchill thought of reciting, asking who was steering or stopping Europe’s fateful course. Nearly a century later, as Britain barrels hopelessly toward an exit from the European Union without a deal—a scenario that has been linked to a simultaneous food crisis, financial crisis, and border crisis—one of his grandsons, the Remainer and Conservative Member of Parliament Nicholas Soames, is asking the same.

Tuesday’s vote made clear that nobody is at the lead of an increasingly rickety and rudderless Parliament. After nearly seven hours of debate, Theresa May, the MP for Maidenhead who still technically bears the title of prime minister, lost the greatest meaningful vote by the greatest margin since the advent of the modern party system. A remarkable 432 MPs lined up against the withdrawal agreement she had reached with the EU, tossing Brexit into ever greater uncertainty. And now, whether Britain has left itself with no deal, no Brexit, or no prime minister remains to be seen. (Read more)

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