NATO can’t stand up to Russia
If Russia invades Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, nato will be unable to defend these nations, though all three are full nato members, German newsmagazine Spiegel reported May 19, citing German government sources and leaked nato documents.
Spiegel’s report comes after nato has consistently failed to confront Russia or take any meaningful steps to defend Central and Eastern Europe, leading these nations to question the reliability of the American-led security alliance.
German Defense and Foreign Ministry officials told Spiegel it would take nato six months to put together a response to any Russia action in the Baltics. “We wouldn’t even show up in time for the Russians’ victory celebration,” one German official said.
German mep Elmar Brok, head of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, said plainly: “At present, the alliance could not protect the Baltic countries with conventional military means.”
“Russia’s ability to undertake significant military action with little warning presents a wider threat to the maintenance of security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area,” a draft copy of a restricted internal nato assessment reveals. “Russia can pose a local or regional military threat at short notice at a place of its choosing. This is both destabilizing and threatening for those allies bordering or in close proximity to Russia.”
“Six months ago, such words would have been inconceivable in a nato document,” Spiegel said. “But the crisis in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine has called many certainties into question.”
Meanwhile Russia is upgrading its military, conducting mass military exercises and keeping its pilots flying. The Russians “now have capabilities and systems once again that cannot simply be brushed aside,” Spiegel quotes Western experts as saying.
Even since invading Crimea, Russia is still giving Eastern Europe new reasons to worry.
On May 5, Moscow unilaterally suspended a deal under which it had agreed to provide information to Lithuania about Russian weapons and armed forces in the region of Kaliningrad. In the 2001 agreement, Russia was required to share data about its armaments in Kaliningrad Oblast—the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania and the home to Moscow’s Baltic Sea fleet. Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevičius called Russia’s refusal to continue honoring the deal “upsetting.”
So Eastern Europe continues to fret, while Western Europe and the U.S. deploy nothing but platitudes as reinforcements. Poland asked for 10,000 nato troops to be stationed in its territory. It got a few dozen fighter jets. It asked the European Union to overhaul the way it buys oil and gas from Russia. It got a vague hope that the EU will be able to buy more gas from Norway.
Europe knows it has to do more. Spiegel compares the anxiety in European defense departments to the climax of the euro crisis in 2012. They are taking a hard look at how—or if—they can withstand Vladimir Putin’s army.
The Ukraine crisis has forced Europe to fundamentally re-evaluate its defense and security—to the point of questioning nato itself. Where will this shake up of European defense departments lead? Read Gerald Flurry’s May-June cover article, “The Crimean Crisis Is Reshaping Europe!”
Pope to UN: the State must redistribute wealth
The state should redistribute economic benefits, Pope Francis told a meeting of senior United Nations’ leaders, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, May 9.
The pope spoke to many of the world’s top leaders at the UN’s System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, the organization’s most senior coordination forum, which includes the heads of all UN programs and agencies, as well as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank.
The pope devoted most of his speech to the economy. He focused on Christ’s encounter with the wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), after which Zacchaeus announced he would give half his goods to the poor. But rather than encouraging individuals to have compassion on those less well off than themselves, as this biblical passage promotes, he called for “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state.” This is a different kettle of fish. It requires a big government with a large welfare state and a heavy tax burden. But it is consistent with the pope’s other pronouncements on the economy, which have caused some to view the pope as a Marxist.
Francis’s economic philosophy, which he detailed in last year’s Evangelii Gaudium exhortation, is rooted in Catholic social doctrine. In essence, it is to resolve the unchecked government power of Marxism and intrinsic selfishness of capitalism by creating a strong, almost-Marxist state with power to redistribute wealth to the poor, but under the authority of the Catholic Church. This way, benevolent Catholic rulers would ensure people are treated fairly.
This economic system is not new; the Vatican has promoted it for years. For what it looks like in practice, see “Church + State” in our March edition. But the pope is successfully using the current global economic crisis to breathe new life into this old Catholic power play. For more on the pope’s ideas, read the March cover story, “Much More Than an Economic Plan.”
Khamenei: More missiles!
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke out on May 11 in favor of enhancing his nation’s ballistic missile program. He made his comments just two days before the P5+1 nations convened to discuss possible ways to continue the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.
The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) plus Germany are wary of Iran eventually putting nuclear warheads on its ballistic missiles, so they want to include the missile program in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. But Tehran insists the missiles are merely a part of its conventional army and therefore not up for discussion.
The ayatollah bluntly declared that including ballistic missiles in the nuclear negotiations “is a stupid, idiotic expectation. The Revolutionary Guards should definitely carry out their program and not be satisfied with the present level,” he said. “They should mass produce. This is a main duty of all military officials.”
Iran already has one of the largest missile programs in the Middle East. If the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps responds to Khamenei’s call, every improvement to the missile program increases the potential places where an Iranian warhead could detonate.
Khamenei’s claims that he supports the P5+1 negotiations are undermined by his raising the topic of Iran’s ballistic program two days before the talks. In truth, Iran doesn’t want to finalize a deal. It wants to continue talks and gain sanctions relief in return for promises and concessions that don’t involve dismantling nuclear facilities.
Dangerous plan to counter Iran
As nuclear negotiations falter between Iran and the P5+1, the United States appears to be trying to encourage the Gulf Cooperation Council (gcc) to become a Middle Eastern counterbalance to Iran.
At a rare meeting of gcc defense ministers in Saudi Arabia on May 14, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged Persian Gulf states to unite and increase their military cooperation to “address the threats posed by Iran.” He surmised, “No one nation can address these threats alone.”
Hagel hopes this meeting becomes an “annual security consultation” for gcc nations, which include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Collaboration will include ramping up integration on air- and missile-defense and maritime security, as well as enhancing cooperation on cybersecurity.
But is pushing for a strong, united Gulf Cooperation Council in America’s best interest? Tension between the U.S. and Arabs is high. America’s relations with Saudi Arabia are souring because of what the Saudis consider Washington’s inept foreign policy.
This push for gcc unity is dangerous. Anti-American sentiment is high and rising in the Arab world, even in gcc states. It shouldn’t surprise that the Bible prophesies in Psalm 83 that Persian Gulf Arab nations will ally with Turkey and Syria in an alliance that will turn against America.
Hagel concluded his speech with this quote from Arabic folklore: “[C]ooperation among friends is vital to their survival.” For its own welfare and that of its traditional allies, America needs to choose its friends more wisely.
Egypt caught Spying on Ethiopian Dam
Ethiopian security forces arrested three men on May 5 in separate locations across the nation, accusing them of being spies who were gathering intelligence on its dam system. The arrests constitute the latest escalation in tensions over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Ethiopia is constructing the massive hydroelectric dam on the headwaters of the Nile River, and the dam’s geopolitical significance is immense. Egypt sees this dam as a direct threat to its own national stability. Almost 100 percent of Egypt’s 83 million inhabitants live on the banks of the Nile, a significant portion of which flows north out of Ethiopia. Cairo sees the dam as the equivalent of a giant spigot that Ethiopia could turn on and off at will.
While Ethiopia claims the dam won’t affect the water flow to the north, it hasn’t convinced the Egyptians. The arrest of the three spies shows that despite its domestic struggles, Egypt is still wary of Ethiopia. Once Cairo regains its domestic footing, it will focus even more attention on defending its lifeblood: the Nile.
Russia, China: ‘chaos strategy’
“China’s Grand Strategy Disaster” was the title of an article the National Interest published on May 20. In it, Brad Glosserman asked, “While Beijing’s power is growing, so are its problems. So why is it picking fights with so many of its neighbors?”
Glosserman says pressing domestic concerns should be drawing the full attention of China’s leaders, but instead they are ramping up their aggression on multiple fronts, including getting behind Russia’s push to upset the international order. China’s behavior baffles Glosserman and others. With more than enough to worry about at home, why would China purposely sow chaos?
Earlier this month, Geoffrey Pyatt, the United States ambassador to Ukraine, said, “People in the East have been told that Kiev has been taken over by fascists, that they’re coming to steal your property … and you have to mobilize to protect yourself. The thing that’s important to remember … is that until February 22, there was no discussion in Ukraine about the Russian language or federalization. These were not topics of national debate. This was part of this Russian strategy, which was intended to create chaos.”
Is there a connection between Russia’s combative behavior and China’s aggressive posturing? In a 2002 commentary called “Chaos as a Strategy,” P. H. Liotta said: “The chaos strategist thus targets the American national security decision-making process and, potentially, the American people, rather than American military force, in order to prevail. Such a strategist seeks to induce decision paralysis. In a strategy of chaos, the key objective will be to convince American political leaders that no clear solution, end-state or political objective (other than the cessation of chaos) exists in the strategist’s sphere of dominance.”
America’s lifeless response to Russia’s and China’s provocations suggests this is exactly what is happening. Current signs show that we can expect these assertive Eastern nations to continue to take full advantage of Washington’s decision paralysis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is exploiting a new avenue for pro-Russia propaganda: trolls. According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, its comments pages are being overrun by “trolls”—Internet users who stir up contention by posting abusive and inflammatory comments online. It appears Putin has an army of them spreading Russian propaganda on article pages, blogs chat rooms and forums.
Allegations of the Kremlin paying Russians to champion Putin’s political activities and denigrate any opposition are not new. On Feb. 7, 2012, the Guardian reported that pro-Putin groups were being paid to dominate comments pages on news websites and blogs.
Since the Crimean crisis, however, the number of hateful, pro-Russian comments has spiked. The Guardian cited a number of telltale signs that clearly indicated that pro-Kremlin groups were making a determined and coordinated effort to spread propaganda through comment boards.
Trolling is just a small part of Russia’s larger initiative to delegitimize opposition to the Kremlin and its policies. The international community relies heavily on the Internet for information on the Ukrainian crisis. Putin knows it, and his trolls are bringing the battle online.
Don’t get hopeful about Protests in Georgia
On May 27, protesters stormed presidential headquarters in Abkhazia, a Russian-backed breakaway state in Georgia, to demonstrate against government corruption. The turmoil led to speculation over whether potential new leadership in Abkhazia might attempt to steer the state away from Russian alignment, or whether Vladimir Putin may decide to officially swallow the state as he did with Crimea in March.
Whatever the outcome of the protests, Michael Cecire of the Foreign Policy Research Institute says the world shouldn’t expect Abkhazia to distance itself from Moscow and gravitate to the West. “Anyone trying to find a pro-West angle in Abkhazia will be disappointed,” he wrote. He says that even if opposition leader Raul Khadjimba ascends to power, Abkhazia would remain aligned with Moscow.
In 2008, after Russia invaded Georgia, Moscow recognized Abkhazia as independent and exerted control over it. Just after that war, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote, “This was the first military strike of a rising Asian superpower—and there will be more! … [Western leaders are] trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into nato. I don’t believe Russia will ever allow that to happen. … Will a crisis occur over Ukraine? … [S]urely [Russia] is willing to wage war over that as well.” Time has proven that prediction accurate.
On April 14, the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from their dormitory in northeastern Nigeria. The act prompted social media users to begin calling for their release. On May 10, U.S. President Barack Obama even had his wife take his place on his weekly presidential address to plead for their release. She also took to Twitter under the #BringBackOurGirls bandwagon, as did other politicians.
Twitter diplomacy is not enough to persuade a group bent on establishing an Islamist state in Nigeria. It’s impotent against a militia whose name means “Western education is forbidden.” The group has threatened to trade the girls as slaves, arguing that they shouldn’t have been in school anyway. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has taunted: “I abducted your girls. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”
These terrorists are “obeying Allah”—tweets won’t sway them. Deranged radicals require more robust action.
America has been doing counterterrorism work for years within Nigeria, but even that clearly has not been enough. Boko Haram has killed far more people than it has kidnapped—over 1,500 this year alone, and over 10,000 since 2002.
Presently, Britain, France and China are the only other nations providing substantial assistance to Nigerians in efforts to check radical Islam. The threat is growing—not only within Nigeria, but also in Central and North Africa and the Mideast. We can expect the international presence within these latter areas to become predominantly European, considering Europe’s vulnerability due to geographic proximity and unsettling historic associations.
A ‘man-made disaster’
In a bbc interview on May 19, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir identified the chief cause of famine in the world’s newest nation: human conflict.
“It is a man-made disaster,” Kiir acknowledged, “and that is why we want the war to stop, [to] allow humanitarian access to everybody in the country.” Humanitarian agency Oxfam says 3.7 million South Sudanese need urgent humanitarian assistance. Of these, more than 200,000 are children suffering acute malnutrition. An estimated 7 million out of the nation’s 10.8 million population could face starvation in the next few months.
“[T]he civil population is going to face one of the worst famines that has ever been witnessed in South Sudan,” President Kiir said. And it’s all “man-made.”
As the Trumpet observed in 2005, “The greatest fundamental cause of world hunger, far outstripping weather or any other single cause, is internal political and social unrest and conflict.” In World Hunger: Twelve Myths, agricultural economist Peter Rosset noted, “The true source of world hunger is not scarcity but policy; not inevitability but politics.” Sen. Sam Brownback put it the most starkly at a Senate hearing in 2002: “[E]very famine is complicated by politics. … Politics is killing people, literally.”
Ukraine’s Presidential Vote Darkened by Russian Shadows
Ukrainians voted on May 25 in a presidential election which many hope will be a step toward resolving the nation’s crisis. Petro Poroshenko, a Ukrainian billionaire businessman, won with 54.7 percent of the vote. He has long supported Ukraine’s pro-European movement. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will “respect the choice of Ukrainian people.” But in light of his decided disrespect in Crimea, and since the vote was blocked in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists, many Ukrainians mistrust Putin’s intentions.
“We’re voting for the lesser of two evils,” Kiev-based political activist Taras Revunets told the Trumpet on May 24. Revunets runs the Ukrainian Updates blog, which publishes developments about the Ukraine crisis. That crisis began late last year with protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and grew into civil conflict among Ukrainians. Revunets was among the activists who stormed the presidential palace after Yanukovych fled.
Ukrainians successfully elected a president in May, but Russian troops stayed massed on Ukraine’s border and pro-Moscow insurgents continued to attack and take over large sections of eastern Ukraine.
Revunets said Western powers should help Ukraine counter Russian aggression. “The West should know what’s at stake here,” he said. “Is it just the fate of one faraway country that’s on the line? Not if you look at the big picture. And if you do, you’ll see a potential global security crisis. In today’s interdependent and interconnected world, we’re one big neighborhood.”
“If Ukraine doesn’t resist,” he said, Russia will “move on to the next target.” “So far, Western sanctions have been spineless,” Revunets said. “The world is watching and weighing its options. Will key U.S. allies that have big, aggressive neighbors continue relying on U.S. security assurances?”
It remains to be seen whether the messy election of a new president will be the step toward stability that many hope for or a step in the other direction.
Elections can’t fix S. Africa
On May 7, South Africans re-elected President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress (anc) party in the nation’s fifth general elections since the end of apartheid 20 years ago. The anc garnered 62 percent of the vote. The rest of the vote was shared between a divided opposition, consisting mostly of Helen Zille’s Democratic Alliance (22 percent) and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (6 percent).
Over its 20 years in power, the anc has never received less than 62 percent of the vote and has averaged 65 percent (compared to an average of 16 percent for the runners-up). The anc pulled off its most recent victory in spite of Zuma’s nose-diving personal ratings. The Zuma administration has been criticized for corruption. Zuma himself has been accused of misappropriating state funds for a $23 million security upgrade at his private homestead. He has also been censured by retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A staunch supporter of former President Mandela and his cause, Tutu said he was glad Mandela was dead and thus unable to witness Zuma and the anc’s misrule.
Unemployment in South Africa is currently at 31 percent. The South African economy has recently been surpassed by that of Nigeria. The International Monetary Fund reported on April 24 that economic growth is decelerating due to slothful private investment, feeble consumer and investor confidence, labor disputes in the mining sector and an erratic electricity supply. The South African Reserve Bank has warned that the economy risked significant capital flight from investors, and warning bells of a recession have already sounded.
Many people dislike Zuma—thousands booed him at Mandela’s memorial service in December. But they remain loyal to the anc brand. It is credited as the party that liberated the black majority from the apartheid regime—the redeemer that alone can guarantee and safeguard those freedoms. Voters don’t let the actual results of that party and its leaders sway their votes more than a percentage point or two.
Ironically, South Africa is the world’s largest producer of platinum and chromium and is potentially one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. But corruption within and without the anc, racial strife, rape and murder are squelching its incredible economic potential—not to mention everyday life for millions of South Africans.
You call this a ‘recovery’?
Record numbers of American men have dropped out of the labor force, members of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee revealed in May.
The committee reported, “There are currently 61.1 million American men in their prime working years, age 25 to 54. A staggering one in eight such men are not in the labor force at all, meaning they are neither working nor looking for work. This is an all-time high dating back to when records were first kept in 1955.”
Another 2.9 million men who are in the labor force are not employed. That means a total 10.2 million prime-age working men don’t hold jobs in the U.S. economy today. This compares to 7.5 million in 2007.
Some attribute the shrinking labor force participation to the increasing pace of retirement of the baby boomer generation. But these new statistics confirm a trend that Barron’s recently diagnosed: “The ratio of those over 55 in the workforce actually ticked up.” In other words, older Americans are being forced to return to work in a poor economy to make ends meet while many younger Americans simply aren’t working at all.
So the numbers are as bad as they seem: A record number of working-age Americans are not holding a job at all.
Arming the Agriculture Department
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (usda’s) mission statement is to “provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management.” To carry out that mission, it has recently requested an important agricultural tool: Smith & Wesson .40-caliber with ambidextrous semi-automatic submachine guns with front and rear Tritium night sights, flashlights and scopes, collapsible stocks, 30-round magazines, slings, and oversize trigger guards for gloved operation. That’s from its official solicitation for commercial acquisition on May 7. The quantity? Undisclosed.
The Agriculture Department gave no rationale for why it needs combat-style weapons. It may be the same reason police forces provide for also acquiring military-grade hardware: to keep pace with citizens. Former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton said flatly, “We are a gun-crazed society.”
It is true that gun purchases have skyrocketed in the United States. In recent years, even as gun and ammunition manufacturing has ramped up, it has been unable to keep up with ballooning demand. But when would a usda employee encounter a situation where use of a .40-caliber submachine gun is an appropriate course of action?