On July 1, Sweden took over the rotating presidency of the European Union. One of the biggest challenges Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt will face is pushing the Lisbon Treaty forward despite the increased number of right-wing euroskeptics who gained seats in the European Parliament’s elections in June.
As European leaders focus on holding the Union together, Pope Benedict xvi issued a call for a “true world political authority” in his 144-page encyclical released July 7 (article, page 20).
Europe’s economic outlook continues to deteriorate. According to the EU’s statistics office, industrial production in the 16-nation eurozone fell an astounding 21.6 percent from April 2008 to April 2009. Germany was one of the hardest-hit countries, with a 23.2 percent annual fall. As the largest economy in Europe and the world’s biggest exporter, Germany is the main driver of economic activity on the Continent. As an indication of the general fear on the street, “Gold to go” vending machines are being unveiled across Germany, as firm TG-Gold-Super-Markt tries to take advantage of widespread economic uncertainty. Historically, the price of gold going up indicates probable economic trouble. Gold becoming so popular that people can buy it from vending machines is a big warning sign for Europe.
The European parliamentary election in June has placed Germany in a position of much higher and stronger representation than any other EU member nation in this Parliament. The new EU Parliament president, Jerzy Buzek, will have an uphill battle resisting pressure from the powerful German lobby within the new Parliament’s ranks. German parliamentary members have been elected to three of the most powerful legislative committees in the new Parliament: the influential industry, research and energy committee; the environment committee; and the new legal affairs committee. In addition, a German member of the European Parliament now heads a special committee investigating the financial crisis. This means that industry, energy, environment, legal affairs and the financial crisis—about the sum total of all major EU business—will now be under German leadership in the European Parliament.
At the official opening of the new European Parliament on July 13, the departing president, Germany’s Hans-Gert Pöttering, gave an indication of how Germany is likely to use its dominance in the new Parliament when he “urged meps to unite to freeze ‘anti-Europeans’ out of the decision-making process for the next five years” (Times, July 14).
If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by Germany and the remaining dissenting nations sign up to it, Germany will gain even more political power. “If and when the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, Germany stands to be the big winner,” reported European Voice. “The introduction of a system of voting in the Council of Ministers by double majority, taking into account the population represented by the member states as well as their allocation of votes, will favor Germany” (July 9).
The U.S. began implementing its new strategy for Afghanistan in early July, mounting an offensive into the Taliban’s opium-growing stronghold in the south of the country. A surge of 4,000 troops was sent to Helmand province with the aim of “winning hearts and minds.” Time is on the Taliban’s side, however, and as casualties mount, fragile public support for the war in the U.S., and in its main ally, Britain, are certain to falter.
On July 2, Iran and Afghanistan signed a 17-article memorandum of understanding to promote bilateral trade and expand commercial ties between the two countries. Items in the memo included a joint Afghanistan-Iran chamber of commerce in Kabul and a preferential trade agreement. Iran has stepped up its involvement with Afghanistan (and Pakistan), not only as a means of increasing its influence in that country, but also in an effort to increase its leverage against America.
Four EU countries and Turkey signed an agreement on July 13 formally launching the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which will take natural gas from the Caspian Sea region and the Middle East through Turkey to Europe. “Nabucco’s viability critically depends on gas supplies from Turkmenistan and Iran,” said Asia Times Online (July 15). The pipeline is designed to decrease the EU’s dependence on Russian gas. But reliance on Iran and the Middle East for energy will prove to be every bit as dangerous for Europe.
On July 9, the U.S. released five Iranian agents accused of supporting Shiite terror cells in Iraq. The U.S. military turned them over to Iraqi authorities, who promptly released them to the Iranians. U.S. spokesmen said Washington had no choice but to release the Iranians under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement made with Iraq last year. Stratfor reported, however, that it appears the captured Iranians were a bargaining chip for the U.S. to use in its negotiations with Iran, and that their release could indicate that Washington intends to continue its policy of diplomacy with Iran. Regardless, the U.S. has proven unwilling to prosecute Iranian agents responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers. Iraq’s actions also reveal that its sympathies lie more with Iran than with America.
American troops completed their withdrawal from Iraqi cities June 30. About 130,000 U.S. soldiers will remain in urban outposts to help Iraqi forces if called upon. Fox News military analyst Col. David Hunt warned that the security situation in Iraq “will hinge as much on Iran as the Iraqi government.” Iran has strong ties to Iraq’s Shiite government, and where it refuses to do Tehran’s bidding, Iran has another tool: terror. “Iran is still supporting, funding and training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, America’s top military commander in Iraq. “They have not stopped, and I don’t think they will stop.” Watch for Iraq to strengthen its ties to Iran as it acknowledges the current reality: that America is leaving, and Iran is there to stay.
It seems that as Lebanon’s ruling March 14 alliance battles to form a new government following the country’s parliamentary elections on June 7, its aim is to reconcile with Hezbollah. The ruling party knows that the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah terrorist group will retain its grip on the country one way or another—which is why it is accommodating Hezbollah rather than standing up to it. While Saad Hariri, leader of the ruling alliance, is resisting granting Hezbollah formal veto power, Stratfor reports that he and his Saudi patrons are “formulating a new working relationship with the Shiite militant group that protects and pays tribute to the ‘Resistance’” (June 16). Fearing Hezbollah would take matters into its own hands violently, Hariri has set out to appease the group by giving it security guarantees, meaning Hezbollah will not be called upon to disarm.
After testing its first nuclear bomb on Independence Day three years ago, and then detonating its second nuclear bomb this past Memorial Day, North Korea chose July 4 this year to launch seven missiles eastward into the Sea of Japan, likely in an effort to demonstrate it would not hesitate to seek to overwhelm the missile defense systems of its enemies. The U.S. State Department spokesman’s response was to say, “This type of North Korean behavior is not helpful.” Such a response reinforces the international perception of America’s weakness.
Thousands of Chinese troops flooded into Urumqi, a Chinese city of 2.5 million near the Pakistan and Afghanistan borders, in early July to separate feuding ethnic groups after riots left more than 190 people dead and hundreds more injured. Chinese officials allege that the fighting between Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese was whipped up by U.S.-exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer and her overseas supporters. The ethnic violence may be a sign that China’s economic slowdown is becoming more severe, at least in the interior provinces.
The World Tribune reported July 7 that Chinese military experts are calling for the setting up of military space forces, an indication that Beijing is moving ahead with plans to wage space war in a future conflict. The Beijing Zhongguo Xinwen She, the official news service for overseas Chinese, reported that space is now a fourth domain after land, sea and air. In 2007, China tested its first anti-satellite weapon by firing a ground-based missile that destroyed a Chinese weather satellite. The test shocked U.S. military planners because it demonstrated a strategic asymmetric warfare capability that could be used against the U.S. to devastating effect.
During President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow in early July, America and Russia signed an agreement that will allow U.S. military transport flights through Russian airspace to supply U.S. and nato troops in Afghanistan. A cap of 4,500 flights per year has been put in place, however, which, while shortening the supply line, will not allow a greater quantity of supplies to reach Afghanistan. It is land routes through Russian territory that the U.S. really wants—and a deal on this is unlikely without a great deal of haggling and a substantial pay-off for Russia.
On June 29, Russia began its largest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union. The exercises near the Georgian border raised tensions just under a year after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that more than 8,500 troops, 200 tanks, armored vehicles, 100 artillery units and several units from Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet took part in the week-long exercises. Just a few weeks earlier, nato held its own military exercises in Georgia. “The Russian exercises, given the timing, are a definitive response,” said Russia’s envoy to nato, Dmitri O. Rogozin. Russia’s growing power and confidence are becoming increasingly visible.
Russia’s energy weapons are growing stronger too. Russia signed a major deal with Azerbaijan on June 29 to purchase natural gas beginning next year. Moscow wants to become the middleman between Azerbaijan and Europe, and remove a potential supplier for Europe’s planned Nabucco pipeline. That way Russia could continue to use the threat of cutting off gas supplies as a geopolitical weapon.
The United States and Venezuela are restoring full diplomatic ties, with their ambassadors having returned to each other’s countries in June. But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has already lambasted President Obama more than once and is continuing to build relationships with Iran and China that will undermine U.S. interests in the region. For now, Venezuela still needs the U.S. When that is no longer the case, expect Chavez to close the door again.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan president is continuing his war on his country’s media, promising to take over more than 200 radio stations and bring cable television under government oversight.
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner suffered a major political defeat in June 28 elections when her party lost its majority and her husband, himself a former president of Argentina, lost the election for a parliamentary seat in Buenos Aires. While President Fernandez’s populist policies have backfired, she may well try to push through as many of her agenda items as possible before the newly elected legislators take office in December.
The Honduran Supreme Court ordered the military to remove President Manuel Zelaya from office on June 26. Many news outlets, apparently following the lead of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, reported his legal removal by the judiciary and replacement by his constitutionally mandated successor as a “coup.” On July 15, Roberto Micheletti, the interim president, offered to resign as long as Mr. Zelaya was not reinstated. Three days earlier, Micheletti said Zelaya could be granted amnesty as long as he returned home quietly to face any legal consequences. This behavior reinforces the obvious: There was no military coup in Honduras.
Zimbabwe has secured $950 million in credit lines from China as well as pledges totaling more than $500 million from the U.S. and Europe. The tattered country says it needs $10 billion to rebuild its infrastructure. Unemployment is at 90 percent.
South Africa’s Medical Research Council (mrc) has released a shocking survey: One in four South African males admits to having raped someone, with about half saying they had multiple victims. The survey included 1,738 men in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. According to bbc News, the mrc said that “practices such as gang rape were common because they were considered a form of male bonding” (June 18). Seventy-three percent of respondents said they carried out their first attack before they were 20 years old. One in 20 admitted to committing a rape in the last year. For every 25 men accused of rape in South Africa, however, only one is convicted.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. officially lost 460,000 jobs in June. For its calculations, the bureau automatically adds between 150,000 and 200,000 jobs. The actual job loss was probably closer to 600,000. When discouraged and “underemployed” workers are included, the unemployment rate is already above 16 percent, and duration of unemployment now is at an all-time high. Although exact data from the 1930s is unavailable, economists are seeing 2009 mimic the early stages of the Great Depression.
The federal deficit topped $1 trillion in June for the first time ever. It could grow to nearly $2 trillion by this fall, intensifying fears about higher interest rates, inflation and the strength of the dollar. The deficit has been widened by the huge sum the government has spent to ease the recession, combined with a sharp decline in tax revenues and the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Foreign investors, on whom the U.S. is dangerously reliant—including some American allies like France and India—are questioning whether it’s a good idea to invest in the dollar.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc) stated in late June that up to 1 million Americans may be carrying the new h1n1 swine flu. Nearly 28,000 U.S. cases of the illness, including more than 3,000 hospitalizations and 127 deaths, had been reported to the cdc.
The Christian Science Monitor reported on July 9 that Britain, formerly an empire, now faces big military cuts: “[A]t a time of overwhelming public support for its service men and women, the global recession is causing Britain to face hard choices about its future military role in the world—putting at risk plans to build new aircraft carriers and heralding consequences for everything from operations alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan to whether the UK remains nuclear-armed.” Britain’s defense forces are undergoing a full-scale official review for the first time in more than a decade. Three of Britain’s most influential independent research institutes forecast that Britain’s defense budget will be drastically cut.
Britain is also facing an “energy crunch” in the North Sea. New oil and gas exploration there plunged almost 60 percent in the first half of this year. Companies are cutting back on new projects because the recession is forcing costs higher and making credit tighter. The majority of the UK’s energy needs are supplied domestically, but with domestic production dropping 5 percent every year, Britain is being forced to rely more and more on imports.
The UK has the worst violent crime record in the EU, according to reports by the European Commission and the United Nations. For every 100,000 residents there are 2,034 instances of violent crime. The UK also reported the fourth-highest burglary rate (523 per 100,000) in the EU and the fifth-highest robbery rate (164 per 100,000). Comparing Britain’s current rates to the late 1990s, the number of violent crimes in Britain has risen almost 80 percent.