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)

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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)

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Algeria gambles on old captain to chart new waters

Simon Speakman Cordall

Al-Monitor

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)

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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)

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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

Politico

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

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Trump Is Launching a New, Terrifying Arms Race

Michael T. Klare

Nation

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

Image result for The Retreat of African Democracy foreign affairs BAZ RATNER / REUTERS

(Image: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

The Retreat of African Democracy

Nic Cheeseman and Jeffrey Smith

Foreign Affairs

In the decade following the Cold War, Africa saw many democratic success stories. In 1991, Benin and Zambia became the first former dictatorships to hold multiparty elections after the fall of the Soviet Union. In both countries, the opposition beat the incumbents. In 1994, South Africa replaced apartheid with majority rule, and soon after that, Nelson Mandela was elected president. Later that decade, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi also held elections and saw power change hands. All told, by the middle of the first decade of this century, every major peaceful state in Africa except Eritrea and Swaziland, the continent’s last absolute monarchy, was, at least in principle, committed to holding competitive elections.

But in recent years, Africa’s political trajectory has begun moving in the opposite direction. In Tanzania, President John Magufuli has clamped down on the opposition and censored the media. His Zambian counterpart, President Edgar Lungu, recently arrested the main opposition leader on trumped-up charges of treason and is seeking to extend his stay in power to a third term. This reflects a broader trend. According to Freedom House, a think tank, just 11 percent of the continent is politically “free,” and the average level of democracy, understood as respect for political rights and civil liberties, fell in each of the last 14 years. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows that democratic progress lags far behind citizens’ expectations. The vast majority of Africans want to live in a democracy, but the proportion who believe they actually do falls almost every year. (Read more)

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

(Image: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian 

Paul Krugman

New York Times

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

Yet those forces may prevail all the same.

If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street. (Read more)

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Orban Tightens Grip Over Hungarian Courts After Chaotic Vote

Zoltan Simon

Bloomberg

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s long march toward one-man rule in the heart of the European Union hit a new milestone.

Shrugging off the threat of sanctions from Brussels, Orban’s lawmakers approved a law Wednesday that will further tighten his hold over the country’s court system. Opposition lawmakers tried to prevent the opening of the parliamentary session and then whistled and jeered as the ruling coalition voted to create a new high court to deal with public-administration cases and brought it under the government’s oversight.

A third-consecutive election win in April gave Orban, 55, and his Fidesz party a constitutional majority, which made the vote a formality. The re-election also gave Orban a self-claimed mandate to continue the NATO member’s transformation into an “illiberal state” along the lines of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, frustrating EU efforts to maintain the unity underpinning the world’s largest trading bloc. (Read more)

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The bright side of Britain’s Brexit chaos

Sebastian Mallaby

Washington Post

One month ago, before British politics turned upside down, the country faced three possible futures. Prime Minister Theresa May was negotiating a compromise Brexit from the European Union, and her odds of prevailing appeared around 50 percent. A group of hard-liners in May’s Conservative Party wanted to crash out of the E.U. without a deal, and the odds of that costly result were around 30 percent. Finally, moderates wanted some way of postponing Brexit, or putting it to a second referendum. Their chances probably stood at around 20 percent.

Now consider a paradox. With today’s triggering of a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, Britain has descended into maximum “Game of Thrones” chaos. Yet the odds of a stabilizing outcome have brightened. Of course, all statements about British politics should be assumed to include the word “probably” at least twice. But a fair guess would be that the odds of a delay or a revote on Brexit stand at around 60 percent. The odds of some sort of compromise stand at 30 percent. The odds of crashing out are down around 10 percent. (Read more)

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From Sans Culottes to Gilets Jaunes: Macron’s Marie Antoinette Moment

Sylvain Cyple

NYR Daily

In Soviet times, Russia’s Jews told a joke about a man named Rabinovitch who was distributing pamphlets in Red Square. In a matter of minutes, the KGB had found him and taken him to headquarters. Only there did the agents realize that the sheets of paper were completely blank. “But there’s nothing written here,” one of them said. Rabinovitch said: “They know quite well what I mean.”

For two months, the French government has been unable to make head or tail of the blank sheets of paper handed out by the gilets jaunes, or Yellow Vests, this decentralized, leaderless movement that has no explicit agenda or demand apart from the abolition of a fuel tax. While Emmanuel Macron’s government has blindly concluded that this sudden, violent movement bereft of any clearly articulated purpose has no other goals, movements don’t block major intersections just to protest hikes in gas costs. (Read more)

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How China Systematically Pries Technology From U.S. Companies

Lingling Wei and Bob Davis
Wall Street Journal

DuPont Co. suspected its onetime partner in China was getting hold of its prized chemical technology, and spent more than a year fighting in arbitration trying to make it stop.

Then, 20 investigators from China’s antitrust authority showed up.

For four days this past December, they fanned out through DuPont’s Shanghai offices, demanding passwords to the company’s world-wide research network, say people briefed on the raid. Investigators printed documents, seized computers and intimidated employees, accompanying some to the bathroom.

Beijing leans on an array of levers to pry technology from American companies—sometimes coercively so, say businesses and the U.S. government. (Read more)