Germany should launch an unmanned lunar mission, German Economy Ministry State Secretary Peter Hintze said August 12. “A German moon landing is possible during the course of the next decade, around 2015,” he told zdf television. It would cost $2.2 billion, but would help Germany develop vital technology, said Hintze, who is also the government’s aerospace coordinator. Watch for Germany to increase its expertise in this important military arena.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met in Munich July 16, where they announced agreements on a joint energy agency, trade and greater cooperation in science. In exchange for energy security, Merkel said Germany would provide credit insurance to promote bilateral trade between Germany and Russia, which has seen trade collapse during the economic crisis. Watch this growing relationship. As the Trumpet has explained before, a burgeoning German-Russian relationship has historically indicated that Berlin and/or Moscow are preparing for conflict.
Four disgruntled dairy farmers from Germany set out on their tractors for the Vatican on July 17 aiming to ask Pope Benedict xvi for help. Dairy farmers across Europe are suffering economic hardship; many are losing faith in the ability of European politicians to solve their problems. The convoy traveled under the motto, “We have lost our faith in politics, but not in the church.” Expect this to become a growing trend: Europeans looking to the Vatican for guidance and solutions.
Iceland took its first formal step toward EU membership July 27 : EU foreign ministers asked the European Commission to examine Iceland’s legal preparedness to begin membership negotiations. However, a Gallop poll shows 48 percent of the nation is against joining the EU, with only 35 percent in favor. Iceland is a strategic location for controlling the Atlantic. Watch for the EU to try to bring it under its control, with or without the consent of its people.
For the first time in nato’s 60-year history, a non-American is taking over one of its two strategic commands. Gen. Stephane Abrial, chief of staff of the French Air Force, becomes Supreme Allied Commander Transformation on September 9. France has been outside of nato’s command structure for 43 years, although it has remained a member of the alliance. In return for rejoining nato’s integrated command, France has said the U.S. must accept the EU developing a military role independent of nato. Europe wants to increase its military power, either outside of nato or by using nato as a tool.
Three days of severe riots, sparked by the worsening economic downturn, ripped through France in mid-July, which celebrated Bastille Day on July 14. Much of the rioting appeared to have originated with angry Muslims and powerful union elements. With economic hardship expected to worsen across the Continent in coming months, the risk of social unrest remains high. Europe’s social turbulence is creating ideal conditions for the emergence of more extreme forms of leadership on the Continent.
A British government spokesman admitted in July that the UK is financing projects aimed at halting Israeli settlement activities. British spokesman Martin Day said, “One of these projects seeks to build new Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and save Palestinian houses from demolition.” Day’s comments further reveal the fissure in Israeli-British relations. The UK’s encouragement of Palestinian settlement in East Jerusalem will only add more tension to this prophetic fault line.
As U.S. operations in Iraq wind down, Islamic terrorists are moving into the Gaza Strip. Haaretz reported in August that dozens of Sunni Muslim terrorists had entered Gaza during the previous 12 months. Foreign terrorists in Gaza are symptomatic of the West’s fundamental problem in its approach to terrorism. As terror expert Michael Sheehan has said, it is just swatting the mosquitoes instead of draining the swamp.
A Stratfor source has reported that Hezbollah security chief Wafiq Safa has vastly increased his authority over Shiite officers in Lebanon’s military. Safa now has input concerning all appointments, promotions and deployments of these officers. He also reportedly has an arrangement with the Lebanese Army command whereby he is informed of all the army’s movements and plans. Stratfor sources in the Lebanese military admit “that the army has neither the capability nor the will to stand up to Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah is also making gains politically. In early August, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party, threatened to withdraw from the ruling March 14 alliance, which may open the door for Hezbollah to woo the Druze leader. Jumblatt has backed away from his traditional hostility toward Syria. Jumblatt is moving away from Lebanon’s pro-Western forces in favor of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah most likely because he senses momentum swinging in their direction as America’s influence in the region wanes. As of mid-August, a new Lebanese government—following parliamentary elections in June—still had not been formed. Jumblatt said his party would still be part of a national unity government.
On August 3, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei officially approved President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection. The divisions within Iran’s leadership, however, remain. Khamenei chose Ahmadinejad because he saw him as the leader who could extract the most concessions in negotiations with the U.S., according to Stratfor (August 4). But because Khamenei was forced to come out in open support of Ahmadinejad as a result of election protests—thereby yielding up his public appearance of impartiality—the president’s hand has been strengthened. We may now see Ahmadinejad pursue an even more aggressive foreign policy.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki visited with President Obama in Washington on July 22. The meeting came three weeks after U.S. troops pulled out of Iraqi cities and towns. All combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by August next year. President Obama said he pressed Maliki to include in his government and security forces all ethnic and religious groups to prevent a resurgence of ethnic violence in Iraq. The reality is, however, that with the U.S. retreating, Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government will likely make more concessions to neighboring Shiite Iran than to the Sunnis and Kurds.
Meanwhile, a rift is emerging between U.S. and Iraqi forces in the wake of the U.S. troops’ departure from the cities. In July, insurgents attacked an American convoy; when U.S. soldiers returned fire and pursued their ak-47-armed attackers, they killed three Iraqis. A senior Iraqi Army commander charged the American troops with firing indiscriminately at civilians, and ordered them to be taken into custody. While the confrontation was defused, the incident demonstrated both the dwindling authority the U.S. has in Iraq and the emerging hostility toward America among Iraqis. Iran is certain to fill the void America leaves behind.
Japan’s Democratic Party leader, Yukio Hatoyama, published an essay August 11 outlining his staunch support for an East Asian alliance of nations. Because Hatoyama is poised to become the next Japanese prime minister after August 30 elections, his political philosophies give an indication of Japan’s probable geopolitical direction in the near term. The essay, published in the Japanese journal Voice, revealed Hatoyama’s desire to distance Japan from “U.S.-led market fundamentalism.” Rather, he supports a drive toward political integration into “an East Asian community,” specifying that the community should be modeled after the EU. The shift in Japan’s priorities—away from the U.S. security alliance and toward stronger ties with China—is not new, but it will likely gather momentum under Hatoyama.
Japan has for the first time explicitly stated that it recognizes the need to develop space-based systems for military purposes. Japan’s Ministry of Defense, in its annual white paper on defense released July 17, called for an expansion of the Japanese military’s capabilities, including exploiting space to strengthen national security. Japan has already changed its laws to align with its increasingly aggressive stance on space militarization. With Japan’s security guarantor, the U.S., declining in power in the region, Japan has pretext to further develop its own already very capable, technologically advanced military. North Korea’s nuclear tests earlier this year give Japan additional cause to remove its remaining constitutional restrictions and ramp up its space efforts.
Burma may be trying to develop a nuclear bomb, according to accounts by two Burmese defectors. The defectors—who had never met—both described a secret nuclear complex that Burma was constructing with North Korean help. “The evidence is preliminary and needs to be verified, but this is something that would completely change the regional security status quo,” said the head of Thailand’s Institute of Security and International Studies, Thitinan Pongsudhirak. If Pyongyang is helping Burma get the bomb, the big question is, who else has it helped?
China launched its largest-ever annual tactical military exercise on August 11. During the two-month exercise, the People’s Liberation Army (pla) will transport 50,000 troops thousands of miles and undertake live-fire drills. Among these drills, according to one of the directors of the exercise, will be practice in disrupting an enemy’s electronic devices and countermeasures under a complex electromagnetic environment. From the nature of such exercises, it is clear that the pla is practicing for warfare against a high-tech enemy. With 2.3 million troops, China has the largest standing army in the world, and it is growing rapidly. Associated Press reported August 11 that China had announced a 14.9 percent rise in military spending in its 2009 budget, to 480.6 billion yuan (us$70.3 billion).
Over the past two years in little-reported incidents, Pakistan’s nuclear sites have been attacked at least three times by homegrown terrorists, the Times of India reported August 11. This suggests that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is not as secure as one would like to think. Pakistan insists that there is no chance of its nuclear weapons falling into terrorist possession. However, the steps it has taken to safeguard its nuclear weapons were originally designed to protect them from external attacks, and today’s Pakistan is more vulnerable to internal attacks.
On August 12, Argentina’s defense minister announced an immediate slashing of the country’s military budget by 50 percent. Another 30 percent cut is anticipated for the next quarter. Argentina has the distinction of having defaulted on foreign debt to the tune of $92 billion in 2001, so the country’s creditworthiness hangs under a dark cloud. Since President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has attempted to bolster her popularity by expanding social programs, Argentina has taken out loans with poor interest rates (due to its poor credit). The global economic crisis has made its financial trouble even worse, necessitating the severe cutbacks.
The Venezuelan government concluded a $7.5 billion contract with a Chinese firm on July 30 to construct 290 miles of railway connecting four states. This is the largest Venezuelan/Chinese contract to date outside of the oil industry. Venezuelan officials also signed several agreements with Russia on July 27 for $4 billion covering energy, military and agricultural cooperation. President Hugo Chávez continues to prepare his country for an economy that doesn’t rely on U.S. participation.
South American trade bloc Mercosur wants to increase the use of local currencies in place of the U.S. dollar. Argentina and Brazil introduced this system in 2008, but to date, relatively few industries have adopted it. It will take time for this system to spread, but that time is getting shorter. When it is up, U.S. influence in the region will be gone.
The U.S. State Department revoked the visas of four Honduran officials on July 29, confirming U.S. support for the return of the ousted Manuel Zelaya. Nicaraguan politicians announced that they don’t want the exiled president in Nicaragua either. The border curfews between Nicaragua and Honduras have cost about $3 million per day in trade while Zelaya makes his symbolic stand on the border of Honduras rather than face prosecution at home.
Nigeria exploded in violence in late July with 700 being killed. After five days of clashes between an Islamic sect called Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, the leader of the sect, Mohammed Yusuf, was captured, then killed while in police custody on July 30. Boko Haram wants to establish sharia law in Nigeria. The new leader of the sect, Sanni Umaru, has promised to continue a religious war against the state in order to Islamize Nigeria.
U.S. Postal Service officials said in early August they expect the Postal Service to lose over $7 billion this year and are debating whether to cut out one day of mail delivery, close hundreds of post offices across the nation, and/or issue ious.
U.S. debt now stands at $11.5 trillion, and the administration is talking about another round of stimulus expenditures. Interest payments alone on the debt cost $452 billion last year—the largest category of federal spending after Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security and defense.
The White House is dealing with approval ratings that dropped to 50 percent for the first time August 6. The Times reported that Americans were reacting to the president’s health-care plan and frustration over the nation’s economic problems. The administration responded to criticism of its agenda by releasing an e-mail to Obama’s supporters that characterized opponents of the plan as right-wing extremists, “a tiny minority being stirred up by special interests.”
Unemployment insurance is the only thing keeping many Americans in their homes and off the street. But time is running out. The National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy group, released a study at the beginning of August showing that over 140,000 people in America had collected the maximum unemployment benefit available under the law—despite the fact that Congress extended payouts for an additional 33 weeks. Waves of workers will lose their aid as the year progresses, leaving 1.5 million jobless Americans who have exhausted their insurance by December. “[M]any will have nothing left to get by on even as work keeps getting harder to find,” says Maurice Emsellen, a policy director of the Employment Law Project. This unemployment catastrophe is a formula for trouble at both local and national levels. Once the safety nets expire, a deluge of social discontent could be on the way.
In anticipation of an Afghanistan war assessment from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said August 13 he didn’t know how long the war there would last and said the “economic and institution building is a decades-long process.”
After U.S. President Barack Obama arrived home from Russia with a promise for a pact with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons, it emerged that in U.S.-brokered talks, Britain agreed to reduce its 160-warhead nuclear arsenal in exchange for proof from would-be nuclear states that they were halting their weapons programs. Meanwhile, these weapons are proliferating among the enemies of America and Britain.
On August 1, the bbc reported that hundreds of Britons turned out and lined the streets for the funeral of one of Britain’s two last World War i veterans. Henry Allingham, who served in the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Air Force, was the world’s oldest man when he died July 18 at 113 years old. Harry Patch, Britain’s last World War i veteran, died a week later.
In its August 1 article, “Forget the Great in Britain,” Newsweek said the economic crisis will rapidly shrink Britain’s last pretenses of empire. Due to its dissipating economic strength, 100-percent-of-gdp debt, “the worst public finances of any major nation,” and incoming unfavorable international regulation, “the country is having to rethink its role in the world—perhaps as Little Britain, certainly as a lesser Britain.”
British police arrested 33 people in Birmingham in early August after a clash between Unite Against Fascism and right-wing groups transformed the city into a war zone. Violence broke out when a group of white males began chanting, “England, England” in the city center and a larger group of black and Asian people arrived. One witness said it seemed to be “very systematic,” with groups arriving in cars and joining in the violence.
In early August, Australian police conducted pre-dawn raids in the Victorian state capital of Melbourne, arresting a number of suspected terrorists with Somali-Islamist associations, allegedly engaged in a plot to conduct a suicide mission on one of Australia’s best-known military bases.