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For decades, European leaders have debated the question of whether Europe should have a common foreign policy that’s independent of the United States.
Germany, the UK, and countries situated closest to Russia have traditionally preferred to rely on membership in NATO and US military strength to safeguard European security at a cost affordable for them.
French leaders, by contrast, have argued that, with or without NATO, Europe needs an approach to foreign-policy questions that doesn’t depend on alignment, or even agreement, with Washington.
There are those within many EU countries who agree that Europe must speak with a single clear voice if the EU is to promote European values and protect European interests in a world of US, Chinese, and Russian power.
On paper, there is a European foreign and security policy. In March, EU leaders will sign on to a document called the “Strategic Compass,” a plan designed to boost EU foreign-policy and defense capabilities. So, is Europe on the verge of establishing a much more forceful approach to managing its own foreign-policy challenges?
The EU is already effective in certain areas.
- On climate policy, tech regulation, and other global issues, Europe has offered credible global leadership in recent years in areas where the US and China have mainly safeguarded their own interests.
- The “Strategic Compass” will likely help the Union build new security arrangements with foreign governments, especially in Africa.
- The EU will also work closely with countries along the major transit routes from Afghanistan to Africa this year to help them avoid unmanageable refugee crises.
- Eurasia Group analyst Emre Peker has forecast that later this year, the EU will probably impose a sixth set of sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko’s government in Belarus. These penalties are in response to rigged elections there and human-rights abuses committed against protesters and dissenters. More penalties won’t force an about-face, but it will impose costs on future bad behavior.
But on the biggest questions — Russia, China, and the US — Europe remains divided.
The presence of 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border has again exposed the limits of Europe’s ability to forge a single foreign policy. All 27 EU members have agreed that if Russia invades Ukraine, Europe’s response must include extraordinarily tough financial-market and energy sanctions that extend well beyond anything directed at Russia in the past.
But without a full invasion, Europe will remain split into camps. France and Germany will protect their trade and energy ties with Russia by insisting on a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. Poland, the Baltic states, and other Eastern European countries more directly threatened by Russian actions want a much tougher approach right now.
As a result, this extraordinary threat to Europe’s security will probably be resolved in the coming weeks by a deal crafted mainly in Moscow and Washington.
Europe’s relationship with China features similar divides. In 2021, the EU accused China of unfair trade practices and human-rights violations against Uyghurs living in its Xinjiang region. When Brussels imposed sanctions, Beijing, aware that divisions of opinion and interests within Europe can be exploited, countered with sanctions of its own. European, particularly German and French, companies hoping to protect their market access to China, continue to push for European restraint while officials in Brussels push for a more tough-on-China approach.
And if the EU hopes to revive the so-called EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, a proposal that would create enormous profit opportunities for European companies in Chinese markets, EU governments will face renewed pressure from European business leaders to keep quiet on hot-button foreign policy issues, like Chinese behavior toward Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.
The EU’s new Strategic Compass program is designed to, among other things, forge agreement within the EU on strategic priorities and “set out new ways and means to improve [the EU’s] collective ability to defend the security of our citizens and our Union.”
This plan may help create “European coalitions of the willing,” according to Peker, which can “deploy to regions (like West Africa) where an EU heavyweight (like France) is already working to counter terrorist threats to the region and to Europe.”
But the creation of an “EU Rapid Deployment Capacity” that can send “up to 5,000 troops” into security hotspots won’t remove the primary obstacle to a common European foreign and security policy: the 27 EU states just don’t agree on how Europe should engage Russia, China, or the United States.
That’s a reality that won’t change anytime soon.
A recent spate of violent crimes in New York City has made national headlines. Since Eric Adams was sworn in four weeks ago as mayor of America’s most populous city, violence on the streets — and the subways — has again become a major political focus. Things got even more heated this week, when two young cops were killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem.
Crime is not only a dominant political issue in New York. It also resonates more broadly with American voters worried over increased lawlessness and unrest. Indeed, crime is already shaping up to be a wedge issue as Republicans vie to win control of the US Congress this November.
What’s causing the uptick in crime? America has experienced a crime wave since the pandemic started. Violent crimes – murder, robberies, assault, and rape – were up 3 percent in 2020, while the national murder rate spiked by 25 percent from the previous year. Still, this comes as the national crime rate has dropped significantly since the 1990s.
Pandemic-induced instability is responsible, in large part, for pushing crime rates up in big cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. For months, lockdowns and layoffs kept vulnerable youth and young adults out of productive work and school environments, while also putting huge economic pressures on already-stretched families.
What’s more, general insecurity created by the public health crisis — including a change in policing practices — caused not only a run on toilet paper, but also on guns. An estimated 20 million guns were sold in the US in 2020, likely contributing to a rise in urban gun violence. Domestic violence also soared after lockdown orders were enforced in March 2020, increasing 8.1 percent from pre-pandemic levels.
But politically, the perception of crime is often more consequential than crime statistics.
Polls show that most voters think that crime is a major issue. A whopping 58 percent of Americans surveyed by Ipsos think the situation is worse now than in the early 1990s, when nationwide violence prompted Congress to pass the biggest crime bill in US history.
Anxieties about crime, stability, and disorder could also be linked to broader concerns about the state of the US economy. Inflation is at a four-decade high, leading to a general sense of malaise among the electorate. Revealingly, just 21 percent of Americans now say that they are satisfied with the way things are headed in the country.
Crime has long been a wedge issue in US politics. Richard Nixon famously ran on a law-and-order platform in 1968, when fear of anarchy and racial unrest was pronounced. More recently, Donald Trump made tackling crime a cornerstone of his presidency, vowing to end “American carnage.”
In politics, timing is everything. The perception that Biden has not handled public safety well is a boon for Republicans ahead of the November midterms. Indeed, some Republicans are already drawing on people’s anxieties about lawlessness to try and win back middle-class voters in the suburbs — the new political battleground.
Historical precedent is also on the GOP’s side: for decades, voters have seen Republicans as more adept at handling crime. Meanwhile, recent attempts by the left flank of the Democratic Party to address systemic racism by slashing the police budget — using the slogan “defund the police” — has not resonated with the majority of Americans, including swing suburban voters who live in areas where public safety is perceived to be deteriorating.
Crime might be up somewhat in urban areas. But what matters more is that most Americans think things are dire – and they don’t trust current leadership to handle the disorder.
Hard Numbers: South China Sea jet search, US economy surges, Cuban protesters charged, Africa gets vaxxed
100 million: The US Navy is scrambling to find a $100 million F-35 stealth fighter jet that crashed and sank soon after taking off on Monday from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. One expert described the Cold War-ish race to locate the remains — stocked with classified equipment — before the Chinese do as "basically The Hunt For Red October meets The Abyss."
5.7: The US economy grew 5.7 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, the biggest annual expansion in almost four decades. While this is very good news for the Biden administration, GDP growth is expected to slow down in 2022 due to high inflation, supply chain issues, and looming interest rate hikes.
790: The Cuban government has charged 790 people with sedition and other crimes for taking part last summer in the biggest anti-government protests since the early 1990s. So far, 172 have been tried and convicted.
70: Africa is on track to vaccinate 70 percent of its 1.3 billion population against COVID by the end of the year, according to the African CDC. (So far 11 percent have been vaxxed). This might be possible in part because of declining vaccine hesitancy in populous countries like Nigeria.
Nord Stream 2 used as a bargaining chip with Russia. The US now says that if Russia invades Ukraine, it’ll block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to transfer even more natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. This is a big deal, considering that Germany – thirsty for more Russian gas – has long been pushing for the pipeline to start operating despite ongoing objections from Washington. The $11 billion energy project, which would double Russian gas exports to Germany, is seen as (a big) part of the reason why Berlin is reluctant to push back hard against the Kremlin over its troop buildup at the Ukrainian border. Still, German officials admit Nord Stream 2 could face sanctions if the Russians invade, suggesting that the Americans’ threat was likely coordinated with Berlin in advance. This comes amid ongoing diplomatic attempts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to meet at the White House on February 7.
Castro’s challenges in Honduras. Honduras on Thursday inaugurated its first female president. Xiomaro Castro is a 62-year-old democratic socialist and wife of former president José Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup in 2009. But she assumes office in the middle of a dispute within her own party over congressional roles that could make it hard for her to pass legislation. Several international heavyweights flew in for the ceremony in one of Central America’s poorest countries. US Vice President Kamala Harris, who’s been charged with the very daunting task of addressing the root causes of migration to the US from the Northern Triangle, attended as a sign of solidarity. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai also flew into Tegucigalpa to shore up Taiwanese support for Honduras as it tries to challenge Beijing’s expanding influence across Latin America. (Castro previously said that she might cut off ties with Taipei to bolster economic cooperation with Beijing.)
Portuguese vote. Portugal goes to the polls on Sunday, more than three months after the president was forced to call a snap election over failure to pass the 2022 budget. The ruling center-left Socialist Party of PM António Costa is now slightly ahead in the polls of the Social Democrats, the main opposition center-right party. Meanwhile, the far-right Chega party could become the third-largest parliamentary force after benefiting from some Portuguese blaming leftist parties for forcing an election amid the pandemic. Costa has made it easy for Portuguese to vote early to avoid crowds amid the omicron wave, but turnout is still expected to be low. Whatever the outcome, it's unlikely either of the two main parties will win a majority of seats. This means one of them will need to abstain for the other to take power, or call a second election. That would be very bad news for Portugal, which has so far been one of the EU's most politically stable countries and one of the bloc's economic success stories since the euro and sovereign debt crisis almost a decade ago.
What’s going on in Vladimir Putin’s mind? That’s the million-dollar question.
Ukraine and Russia analyst Alina Polyakova doesn’t think it’s anything good.
Russia's president, she says, has put a “noose” around Ukraine with a troop build-up along the border that could spell invasion in the near term. The US has led an effort to deescalate the situation through diplomacy.
For Polyakova, the Russians have responded with nothing but aggressive language and tactics. Putin’s demands, she believes, are impossible to meet, which signals he's already made up his mind.
“They made really unrealistic demands, which signals to me they weren't interested in diplomacy in the first place, and they really had a plan for more military aggression rather than even trying the diplomatic approach.”
Watch her interview with Ian Bremmer on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.
Ever wonder why everything seems to be a major crisis these days? For former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it's because artificial intelligence has determined that's the only way to get your attention.
What's more, it's driving an addiction cycle among humans that will lead to enormous depression and dissatisfaction.
"Oh my God there's another message. Oh my God, there's another crisis. Oh my God, there's another outrage. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," he says. "I don't think humans, at least in modern society where [we’ve] evolved to be in an 'Oh my God' situation all day."
Schmidt admits he failed to predict AI-enabled algorithms would lead to this addiction cycle. And the solution, he believes, is for people other than computer scientists to get involved in discussing the ethics of AI systems.
Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World: Be more worried about artificial intelligence
Angela Merkel is retired — but only from politics. Still, maybe she's not as good at other jobs as she was as German chancellor.
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