zaterdag 17 september 2016

Divisions erupt at post-Brexit Bratislava summit as EU calls for military-police build-up

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Bologna 3 June 2016
Photo: Francesco Pierantoni (Flickr / Wikimedia Commons)

By Johannes Stern and Alex Lantier

Amid escalating tensions inside the European Union (EU) and between the EU and the United States, the heads of the 27 EU member states, minus Britain, met for their first post-Brexit summit in the Slovak capital, Bratislava.

The summit reaffirmed proposals by top EU, German, and French officials to react to Britain’s exit from the EU by reorganizing the union as a military alliance with broad police powers at home. Beyond the broad lines of this reactionary program outlined in the so-called “Bratislava declaration” issued by the European Council, however, the remaining EU countries failed to agree on any concrete proposals. Explosive conflicts erupted over the economic crisis in Europe and the millions of refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East and Africa.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the leader of the euro zone’s third-largest economy, refused to join the final press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Only weeks ago, Renzi stood together with Merkel and Hollande on an aircraft carrier off the Italian island of Ventotene to call for EU unity after Brexit and revive longstanding plans, blocked until now by Britain with the support of the United States, to turn the EU into a military alliance. Yesterday, however, he attacked the summit and openly stated his disagreement with German and French policies.

I cannot take part in a joint press conference with Merkel and Hollande if I don’t share their conclusions on economy and migration,” Renzi told reporters after the meeting in the Bratislava Castle. He added, “It’s not a controversy, Italy doesn’t see it in the same way as the others.”

Renzi, whose government is deeply unpopular due to its austerity measures, lashed out in particular at Berlin for demanding harsh spending cuts in response to Italy’s banking crisis. “In the same way countries must respect rules on deficit, they also have to respect other rules, like on the trade surplus,” Renzi said. “And there are some countries who don’t respect them; the main one is Germany.”

Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean have arrived in Italy and Greece, which have demanded that other EU countries take in or help fund the accommodation of refugees. Renzi attacked the summit for failing to produce any meaningful agreement on this issue.

Describing today’s document on migrants as a step forward requires an imagination [worthy of] word jugglers,” he declared. “The usual things were said again.”

Hungary’s anti-immigrant premier, Viktor Orban, who has built a fence on the Hungarian border in a reactionary attempt to keep out all refugees, publicly attacked EU quotas requiring Hungary to take in migrants.

During my conversation with Martin Schultz, the president of the European parliament, I asked him to show respect for the Hungarian people,” Orban said. “I asked him to stop using their law-creating tricks, deceiving the sovereign decisions and the will of the national states.”

Effectively acknowledging the deep divisions inside the EU, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that it would have been “inappropriate” to issue written conclusions after the summit.

As the Bratislava summit made clear, the UK’s vote to leave the union reflected divisions and conflicts that extend throughout Europe and threaten to bring down the total dissolution of the European Union. Since its formation in 1992, a year after the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union, the EU has aligned itself with US-led wars, implemented pro-business restructuring measures and carried out attacks on workers’ living standards. Especially since the outbreak of the 2008 economic crisis and the 2011 wars in Libya and Syria, however, these class and international conflicts have undermined attempts to fashion common EU policies.

In response to the Brexit vote, which was organized amid deepening misgivings in the British ruling class over a German-led EU, Germany and France are moving ahead with attempts to unify the EU as a military alliance that Britain had previously blocked, at Washington’s request.

European-American tensions are also erupting to the surface, after EU powers called for an end to trade talks with the United States and imposed a €13 billion fine on Apple, the largest US corporation, for not paying taxes in Ireland. Yesterday, as EU heads of state met in Bratislava, US authorities imposed a $14 billion fine on Germany’s leading bank, Deutsche Bank, on fraud charges related to US mortgage-backed securities in the lead-up to the 2008 Wall Street crash. Deutsche Bank responded by vowing to fight the fine.

Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited,” the bank said in a statement. “The negotiations are only just beginning. The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks which have settled at materially lower amounts.”

Financial disputes are becoming intertwined with strategic conflicts between Washington and the EU over European attempts to formulate military policy independently of the United States. In the lead-up to the summit, Paris and especially Berlin led a reactionary push for military build up, austerity, and authoritarian forms of rule exemplified by the ongoing state of emergency in France.

A six-page proposal, drafted by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, was leaked to the press. “It is high time to reinforce our solidarity and European defense capabilities in order to more effectively protect our borders and EU citizens,” it declared. “Given that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the EU, we will now have to act with [the remaining] 27 member states.” It called for a sharp expansion of military spending to develop aerial refueling capacities, satellite surveillance, cyber warfare, and drones.

At their joint press conference yesterday in Bratislava, Merkel and Hollande confirmed that post-Brexit internal and external rearmament were the center of discussions at the summit. Themes discussed included “security, migration and border protection,” Merkel said. EU leaders also agreed to reduce flows of refugees and on “more cooperation on security,” she added.

Hollande stressed the main message from Bratislava was the need to “secure control of the EU’s external borders.”

The bullet points in the brief “Bratislava declaration” issued by the European Council give a glimpse of the reactionary plans being worked out by EU leaders. The section titled “Migration and external borders” calls for strengthening Fortress Europe, denying the right of asylum to refugees fleeing war, and for mass deportations of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The paper demanded that the EU “Never allow a return to uncontrolled flows [of refugees] of last year and further bring down the number of irregular migrants. Ensure full control of our external borders.”

On “internal security,” it envisages the building of an integrated EU police state, modelled on the policies of the American ruling class implemented under cover of the “war on terror” after the September 11 attacks. It calls for “Intensified cooperation and information-exchange among security services of the Member States” and the “adoption of the necessary measures to ensure that all persons, including nationals from EU Member States, crossing the Union’s external borders will be checked against the relevant databases, which must be interconnected.”

It also demands “concrete measures” to prepare to defend Europe’s geopolitical and economic interests militarily against its rivals. “In a challenging geopolitical environment,” the “December European Council [should] decide on a concrete implementation plan on security and defence,” declares the paper.

This echoes European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the European Union address Wednesday. “Soft power is not enough in our increasingly dangerous neighbourhood,” he said, stressing that Europe can “no longer afford to piggy-back on the military might” of the United States and should “take responsibility for protecting our interests.”

These proposals underscore the falseness and hypocrisy of the EU’s claims to represent freedom, peace, and civilization against the anti-immigrant chauvinism and nationalism of British political parties that campaigned for Brexit. As the EU seeks to convert itself into a military and police regime pursuing a reactionary anti-immigrant policy, the only constituency for peace and democratic rights to be found on either side of the English Channel is the working class.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 17 September 2016, and was republished with permission.

dinsdag 23 augustus 2016

US-South Korean war games inflame Asian tensions

By Peter Symonds

The annual joint US-South Korean military exercises known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) began yesterday amid rising tensions in Asia fuelled by the American military build-up throughout the region. While nominally aimed against North Korea, the war games consolidate Washington’s military alliance with Seoul as it makes preparations for conflict with China.

The military drills involve around 25,000 US military personnel, of which 2,500 will come from outside South Korea, operating alongside 75,000 South Korean troops. The US has 28,500 troops stationed permanently in South Korea and is currently restructuring its bases in the country as part of its broader reorganisation of American military forces in the Asia Pacific.

North Korea has responded with militarist threats to launch nuclear strikes on South Korea and the United States “if they show the slightest sign of aggression.” Such reckless and inflammatory threats, which have nothing to do with defending the North Korean people, play directly into Washington’s hands by providing a pretext for its own military expansion and provocations in the region.

The US-led UN Command Military Armistice Commission declared it had notified the North Korean army that the UFG exercises were “non-provocative.” This attempt to portray the joint war games as defensive and benign is false. Over the past five years in particular, the Obama administration has repeatedly exploited exercises with South Korea to make a menacing show of force in North East Asia.

Last November, the US and South Korea formally adopted a new military strategy—Operational Plans 5015 (OPLAN 5015)—that is explicitly offensive in character. In a conflict with North Korea, US and South Korean forces would make pre-emptive strikes on key targets, including nuclear facilities, and carry out “decapitation” raids to assassinate high-level officials, among them North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

OPLAN 5015 provides the framework not only for the UFG war games, but also the Soaring Eagle exercises currently being carried out by the South Korean Air Force, involving some 60 military aircraft and 530 troops. According to the Korea Times, the air force is practising to “pre-emptively remove the North’s ballistic missile threats by proactively blocking the missiles and their supply route.”

The Korea Times also noted that South Korean officials “are paying keen attention to the possibility that Pyongyang would carry out military provocations” during or after the UFG exercises. In reality, the huge exercises, which are premised on war with North Korea, have always heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. During last year’s drill, the US exploited the situation to station nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers at its bases on Guam in the western Pacific.

The current war games are particularly reckless because of growing signs of instability in Pyongyang. Seoul last week reported the defection of a high-level North Korean official—the number two in its embassy in London. Washington has deliberately sought to destabilise the North Korean regime by strangling its economy through punitive sanctions and isolating the country diplomatically.

The US is boosting its defence ties with South Korea as part of its “pivot to Asia” and war drive against China. Earlier this month the Obama administration approved the sale of military GPS systems to South Korea to improve the capability of its Korea GPS Guided Bomb. On August 14, the Yonhap news agency cited a top official in Seoul saying that South Korea would expand its ballistic missile arsenal to be able to destroy all North Korean military installations simultaneously.

The most significant move, however, was the announcement last month that the US will station its Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea as part of its anti-ballistic missile network in the western Pacific. THAAD, which can intercept and destroy ballistic missiles, is not aimed primarily against Pyongyang, but against Beijing. It is part of US preparations for nuclear war with China, which has objected to the THAAD deployment.

Relations between Seoul and Beijing have soured as South Korea has been increasingly integrated into US war plans. Chinese authorities joined their North Korean counterparts in condemning the US-South Korean war games. The state-owned Xinhua news agency criticised US “muscle-flexing,” warning it would “lead to a vicious circle of violence for violence” that could provoke fighting.

Last week, the Chinese military held its own exercises in the Sea of Japan involving a simulated bomber attack on a naval task force. The potential for a mistake or minor incident provoking a broader conflict was also highlighted last week when three Chinese military aircraft flew briefly into an area covered by overlapping Chinese and South Korean air defence identification zones. The South Korean air force scrambled fighter jets to escort the “intruders” out of the area.

Beijing is concerned that South Korea is not only strengthening military ties with the US but also with Japan. Until recently, Seoul resisted US pressure to coordinate more closely with Japan, given Tokyo’s brutal colonial record on the Korean Peninsula before 1945. The US is keen to integrate both its North Asian allies into military plans, pressing in the first instance for closer intelligence sharing, which is necessary to integrate US anti-ballistic missile systems in Japan and South Korea.

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, encouraged by the US, Japan has moved to remilitarise and take a more aggressive stance against China, not only over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea but throughout the region. The Japan Times revealed over the weekend that China had warned Japan not to send its military forces to join provocative “freedom of navigation” operations challenging Chinese territorial claims in another flashpoint—the South China Sea. Such an action by Japan would constitute a “red line”—in other words, could lead to Chinese retaliation.

Five years after President Barack Obama announced the “pivot to Asia,” Washington’s reckless actions have led to a dangerous heightening of geo-political tensions throughout the Asia Pacific. The worsening of the longstanding confrontation on the Korean Peninsula is just one of the potential triggers for a war involving nuclear-armed powers that could rapidly engulf the region and the world.

This article first appeared on WorldSocialist Web Site (WSWS) on 23 August 2016, and was republished with permission.

vrijdag 29 juli 2016

Het vermogen van “njet”

Hoe één woord het oppermachtige Washington uit z'n evenwicht brengt

Door Dmitry Orlov

De normale gang van zaken op deze planeet verloopt als volgt: in de Verenigde Staten bepaalt de publieke en private top waar de rest van de wereld zich aan te houden heeft. Men maakt zijn wensen over via officiële en niet-officiële kanalen, en verwacht automatische eerbiediging. Wie niet onmiddellijk gehoorzaamt wordt onder politieke, financiële en economische druk gezet. Als dat niet het beoogde effect oplevert wordt een regeringswissel geprobeerd via een kleur-revolutie of een militaire coup, of een opstand georganiseerd en gefinancierd die leidt tot terreuraanslagen en burgeroorlog in het onhandelbare land. Als ook dat niet werkt wordt het land terug naar het stenen tijdperk gebombardeerd. Zo ging dat in de jaren 1990 en 2000, maar sinds kort zien we een nieuwe dynamiek.

In het begin stond Rusland centraal, maar het fenomeen heeft zich vervolgens verspreid over de hele wereld en overspoelt nu ook de Verenigde Staten zelf. Dat gaat als volgt: de Verenigde Staten bepaalt wat Rusland moet doen, verwittigt zijn wensen en rekent op automatische eerbiediging. Rusland zegt “njet.” De Verenigde Staten doorloopt dan alle bovenstaande stappen, tot aan de bombardementen, waarvan het wordt afgehouden door de nucleaire afschrikking van Rusland. Het antwoord blijft “njet.” Men zou zich kunnen voorstellen dat een bijdehante figuur binnen de Amerikaanse machtsstructuur aan de bel zou trekken en zeggen: “De ervaring leert dat het opleggen van onze eisen aan Rusland niet werkt; laat ons proberen te goeder trouw met Rusland te onderhandelen als gelijken.” En dan zou iedereen zich op het hoofd slaan en zeggen: “Wow! Briljant! Waarom hebben we daar niet aan gedacht?” Maar in werkelijkheid wordt die figuur per direct ontslagen. Want de Amerikaanse wereldwijde hegemonie is niet onderhandelbaar. De Amerikanen tonen zich dus verbijsterd, herpakken zich en blijven het proberen, een heel vermakelijk schouwspel.

Het gedoe rond Edward Snowden was helemaal grappig om te volgen. De VS eiste zijn uitlevering. De Russen zeiden: “Njet, onze grondwet verbiedt dat.” De klucht bereikt zijn hoogtepunt toen er in het Westen stemmen opgingen dat Rusland dan maar zijn grondwet moest veranderen! De reactie hoeft geen vertaling: “Xa-xa-xa-xa-xa!”

Minder grappig is de impasse rond Syrië: de Amerikanen eisen continu dat Rusland meewerkt aan de omverwerping van Bashar Assad. De Russische reactie was steevast: “Njet, de Syriërs bepalen wie hun leider is. Dat is niet aan Rusland en niet aan de VS”. Elke keer dat ze die boodschap te horen krijgen krabben de Amerikanen zich achter de oren en ... proberen het opnieuw.

John Kerry was onlangs in Moskou voor een marathon “onderhandelingssessie” met Poetin en Lavrov. De bovenstaande foto toont Kerry zo'n week geleden in gesprek met Poetin en Lavrov in Moskou. Men kan hun gezichtsuitdrukkingen moeilijk verkeerd interpreteren. Kerry, met zijn rug naar de camera, leutert er zoals gewoonlijk flink op los. Lavrov's gezicht zegt: “Ongelooflijk. Moet ik nu weer naar die onzin luisteren?” Poetin's gezicht zegt: “Die onnozelaar heeft maar niet door dat we opnieuw “njet” gaan zeggen.” Kerry vloog huiswaarts met nog maar weer eens een “njet.”

Om het nog erger te maken komen nu ook andere landen in het vizier. De Amerikanen vertelden de Britten precies hoe ze moesten stemmen, en toch zeiden de Britten “njet” en stemden voor Brexit. De Amerikanen vertelden de Europeanen om het Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), een schandalige greep naar de macht van het bedrijfsleven, te aanvaarden, en de Fransen zeiden “njet, dat gebeurt niet." De VS organiseerde maar weer eens een staatsgreep in Turkije om Erdogan in te ruilen voor iemand die niet probeert aan te pappen met Rusland, en ook daar zeiden de Turken “njet”. En om de gruwel compleet te maken heb je daar Donald Trump die “njet” zegt op allerlei zaken: naar het buitenland overhevelen van Amerikaanse jobs, het welkom aan een stroom migranten, de globalisering, wapens voor Oekraïense Nazi's, vrije handel …

Men moet het ondermijnend psychologisch effect van “njet” op de Amerikaanse overheerserspsyche niet onderschatten. Word je geacht te denken en handelen als opperste heerser maar enkel je denkende deel werkt nog, dan leidt dat tot cognitieve dissonantie. Als het je missie is om landen te tiranniseren en die landen pikken dat niet meer, dan sta je voor joker en word je een psychiatrisch patiënt.

De daaruit voortvloeiende razernij toonde onlangs een interessant verschijnsel: een aantal stafmedewerkers van het Amerikaanse ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken tekende een brief, die prompt werd gelekt, waarin wordt opgeroepen tot een bommencampagne tegen Syrië om Bashar Assad omver te werpen.

Pas op, het gaat om diplomaten. Diplomatie is de kunst oorlog te vermijden door te praten. Diplomaten die oproepen tot oorlog handelen nu niet bepaald ... diplomatiek. Je kunt deze lieden natuurlijk incompetent vinden, maar dat gaat niet ver genoeg (de meeste competente diplomaten stapten op tijdens de tweede regering-Bush, vaak uit afkeer over de leugens die ze moesten ophangen over de grond voor de Irak-oorlog). In werkelijkheid gaat het om zieke, gestoorde niet-diplomatieke oorlogsstokers. Dat ene eenvoudige Russische woord heeft zoveel impact dat ze letterlijk hun verstand hebben verloren.

Maar het zou oneerlijk zijn om het ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken er uit te pikken. Het is alsof het hele Amerikaanse politieke apparaat besmet is door een rottend miasma. Dat infiltreert alles en maakt het leven hopeloos. Ondanks de toenemende problemen zijn de meeste andere zaken in de VS nog enigszins beheersbaar, maar dit éne issue, het tussen je vingers zien glippen van de mogelijkheid om de wereld te koeioneren, dat verpest alles. Het is hartje zomer, het land is aan de kust. Het strandlaken is mottig en versleten, de parasol zit vol gaten, de frisdrank in de koelbox is vergeven van kwalijke chemicaliën en de zomerromans zijn duf ... en dan ligt er ook nog een dode walvis te ontbinden in de buurt die men “njet” heeft gedoopt. Dat verpest de hele atmosfeer!

De kletsmeiers van de media en de politieke elite zijn zich vandaag pijnlijk bewust van dit probleem, en hun voorspelbare reactie is om de schuld te schuiven op wat zij zien als de ultieme bron: Rusland, gemakshalve in de persoon van Poetin. “Als je niet voor Clinton stemt stem je voor Poetin” is een recent gehanteerde politieke slogan. En een andere is dat Trump geheim agent is van Poetin. Elke publieke figuur die weigert een pro-establishment houding aan te nemen krijgt automatisch het etiket “Poetin's nuttige idioot” opgeplakt.

Op zichzelf zijn dergelijke claims absurd. Maar ze hebben een diepere betekenis: wat ze gemeen hebben is de impact van “njet.” Een stem voor Sanders is een “njet” stem: het Democratische establishment schuift een kandidaat naar voren en draagt de mensen op voor haar te stemmen, maar de meeste jongeren zeiden “njet.” Idem met Trump: het Republikeinse establishment komt af met zijn Zeven Dwergen en vertelt de mensen om één van hen te kiezen, en toch waagt het grootste deel van de rechteloze werkende blanke klasse “njet” te zeggen en te stemmen voor Sneeuwwitje de outsider.

Het is een hoopvol teken dat mensen over heel de door Washington gedomineerde wereld de macht ontdekken van “njet.” De elite-schuit mag er aan de buitenkant dan nog steeds piekfijn uitzien, maar onder de verse verflaag schuilt een rotte romp, met water dat door elke open naad sijpelt. Een voldoende volmondig “njet” is waarschijnlijk genoeg om het te laten zinken, waardoor men plotsklaps aanleiding ziet voor een aantal zeer noodzakelijke correcties. Als het die kant uit gaat, vergeet dan niet om Rusland te bedanken ... of, als je erop staat, Poetin.

Dit artikel is een vertaling van het artikel van Dmitry Orlov dat op 28 juli op ZeroHedge en op 26 juli op CLUBORLOV, de weblog van de auteur, verscheen. Deze Nederlandstalige versie verschijnt op Geopolitiek in perspectief met het akkoord van de auteur.