The Week in Review
Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant is scheduled to open in August, Russian state-owned nuclear corporation Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko said on Wednesday. Russia has been helping Iran build the Bushehr plant since 1992.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday he would be sending a letter offering cooperation to U.S. President Barack Obama. In an interview on state television, Ahmadinejad said Iran was the “only chance” for Obama to salvage the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The best way for him [Obama] is to accept and respect Iran and enter into cooperation,” the Iranian president said. “Many new opportunities will be created for him.” Stratfor commented that while this is not the first time Ahmadinejad has made offers of cooperation in order to extract concessions, “he has never been so direct about telegraphing his view that the United States is in a difficult position in the Middle East and South Asia, nor has he offered Iran’s help so that the United States can extricate itself from the region. What is important is that the Iranian leader is pretty accurate in both his description and prescription” (April 14; emphasis ours). The ironic thing is, Iran has also been a major cause of America’s difficulties in the Middle East and South Asia. Iran’s influence in the region has increased to such an extent that it can either make it politically easy for the U.S. to withdraw, or quite impossible.
A new poll in Israel shows Israelis firmly behind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and solidly against an imposed peace agreement and the division of Jerusalem. The poll, conducted by Brain Base for Independent Media Review Analysis, revealed that Israeli Jews oppose an imposed peace by a margin of 83 to 8 percent. “The results also pull out the rug from any possible intentions by the Obama administration to try to topple the Netanyahu government in favor of a Kadima-Labor coalition,” reports IsraelNationalNews.com. “It shows strong support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to President Obama’s demands to stop building for Jews in Jerusalem” (April 14). This is a further indication that the Arab-Jew impasse over Jerusalem will continue—till it reaches the point of violence.
Germany’s defense minister has announced plans for a structural reform of the German military that would improve the effectiveness of the country’s armed forces. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg explained on Monday that the Bundeswehr is currently able to deploy only 7,000 to 9,000 of its 247,000 troops because the lion’s share of them are needed either at domestic posts or as relief for soldiers already on international missions. Under the new framework, the military would be streamlined, and more German soldiers would be freed up for overseas missions. Guttenberg also spoke in favor of constant updates to German weaponry and equipment, particularly for troops based in Afghanistan, according to Germany’s Local. Responding to criticism about insufficient equipment contributing to the April 2 death of three soldiers in Kunduz, Guttenberg said Bundeswehr forces in Afghanistan will receive up to 200 new armored vehicles this year. These scheduled reforms, along with bolder language, are evidence that Germany is undergoing a rapid and dangerous transformation of its foreign policy. Expect the military empowerment of Germany and the European Union to continue to make great strides of growth.
Both the far and moderate right did extremely well in Hungary’s general elections, April 11. Conditions in Hungary are not unique; watch for similar nationalism to rise across Europe. The center-right party Fidesz won the election by a comfortable majority—gaining 206 out of the 386 seats. Equally dramatic is the success of the far-right, anti-Semitic party Jobbik, which won 16.7 percent of the vote, and 26 seats. Jobbik has strong links with the paramilitary “Hungarian Guard”—its leader, Gabor Vona, was one of the guard’s co-founders. The Hungarian Guard’s uniforms copy those of Hungary’s fascist party during World War ii, and it has attacked Roma settlements and vilified Jews. The guard was banned in 2008. Hungary was one the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis. It was the first European country to ask for help from the International Monetary Fund. The effect is now clear: a strong shift to the right. A Stratfor analysis gives a chilling warning: “[I]f the 2008 economic crisis has revealed one thing, it is that nationalism is slowly becoming politically convenient, and a successful political strategy. First, the legitimacy of the European Union is shaken, especially by how the bloc has handled the Greek economic crisis. Second, countries all over Europe are taking cues from a suddenly ‘normal’ Germany that has been looking to further its own interests at the expense of European unity, especially during the aforementioned Greek crisis. We are witnessing a process in which the elite—once happily co-opted by EU solidarity—turns toward nationalism. We can therefore expect to see not only a rise in far-right nationalism, but also a reorientation of center-right parties such as Fidesz toward a more traditional nationalist platform” (April 13). So, not only will the far-right parties become more popular, but the moderate parties will also become more right-wing. This is a trend the Trumpet has been predicting for years.
Ash from a volcano in Iceland that erupted for the second time in a month on April 14 has forced northern Europe to shut down its airspace. Planes are grounded in Britain, France, northern Germany and Scandinavia—the largest flight grounding in history. The volcano Eyjafjallajokull spewed out a plume of ash 3.7 miles high. Volcanic ash is invisible to airplane radar, and on two occasions has nearly caused planes to crash, as all four engines failed. The shutdown shows that despite man’s sophisticated technology, he is still vulnerable to the forces of nature.
Moscow took another stride in its resurgence into former Soviet territory last week when pro-Russian Kyrgyz overthrew the government, and took control of Kyrgyzstan. On Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a speech at the Brookings Institute in which he said it was Moscow’s duty to assist Kyrgyzstan in its time of need. “Our task is to help [our] Kyrgyz partners find the most peaceful way of overcoming this situation,” Medvedev said. At a meeting on Wednesday with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other officials, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin backed up the president’s words by announcing that Moscow would give $50 million in loans and grants to Bishkek in humanitarian aid. This offer of assistance indicates that Russian influence and presence in Kyrgyzstan could rapidly expand. If Moscow is given carte blanche in beleaguered Kyrgyzstan, U.S. presence in the country will be squelched. As Russia strives to bolster its national security, its efforts to oust Western influence from the former Soviet sphere will continue.
The death toll from a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in China’s Qinghai Province has risen to over 700, with more than 11,000 injured, and at least 200 still unaccounted for. A spokesman for the rescue headquarters in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu said that 1,174 of the wounded are severely injured. The earthquake struck on Wednesday morning at 7:49 in the Qinghai province’s Yushu prefecture at a depth of about 21 miles, and has spawned a series of aftershocks, the biggest of which was a 6.3 magnitude. Many victims are still buried in the rubble as the quake razed more than 85 percent of houses in Yushu’s Gyegu Town, near its epicenter. The Qinghai quake takes its place on a quickly growing list of massive and devastating earthquakes this year, which the United States Geological Service maintains is “within the normal range.” While the number of earthquakes of 7.0 or greater magnitude is not abnormal, the number of deaths resulting from this year’s seismic activity, which is approaching a quarter of a million, towers above the yearly average.
Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa announced on Tuesday that 10 Chinese military vessels have traveled between Japan’s Okinawa and Miyako islands since April 10. The announcement indicates a significant increase in Beijing’s naval activities in international waters. Although the activities at this juncture do not violate any international laws, analysts say that the operations are significant because they indicate the growing capability of China’s naval forces, and suggest that Beijing has the goal of preventing intervention by other naval forces. For decades, China has been engaged in territorial disputes over islands in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, and its rapidly growing international status has intensified Beijing’s claims in these areas. As China’s increasing economic might and its expanding military power continue to feed each other, expect Beijing’s territorial claims and general assertiveness on the global stage to intensify.
Somali pirates may be prosecuted in a German court for the first time. On April 12, arrest warrants were issued for a group of Somali pirates by a court in Hamburg. The suspects are accused of attacking a German container ship.
Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India and China met in Brasilia this week in a meeting of the world’s top four emerging markets, called the bric countries. The meeting ended early on April 15, when Chinese President Hu Jintao left to return to his country after the Qinghai earthquake hit. These four countries contain 40 percent of the world’s population, and consistently seek to have a larger say in world affairs.
In a landmark, three-way debate on Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the economy is teetering on a double-dip recession. The televised debate, a first for British election campaigns, was between Brown and Conservative David Cameron, with Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg also participating. Brown and Cameron are evenly matched ahead of the May 6 snap election.
British children are joining gangs, and even aligning with the feared Bloods and Crips gangs of Los Angeles. It is reported that around one quarter of gangs in London now link themselves to L.A. gangs.
British scientists are developing embryos with dna from one man and two women. The foray into “three-parent” children is purported to be a method for preventing genetic disease, but critics say it is leading to “designer embryos.”
On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to deliver his vision for the nasa space program. The administration’s space shuttle program is down to its last four missions, and Obama has decided to cut its successor program, Constellation, which was intended to put American astronauts back on the moon and prepare for a venture to Mars. Obama favors instead a longer-term and so far less-specific plan which involves a “heavy-lift” rocket that would eventually reach Mars’s moons by the mid-2030s and go on to Mars thereafter. Some astronauts, including the last man to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, and the usually apolitical Neil Armstrong, have spoken out strongly against the change, saying it is “short sighted” and will result in American space mediocrity, allowing China and Russia to become the premier powers in exploring space and developing the many spinoff technologies and benefits.