2016 in Geopolitical Review

Barack Obama
American president Barack Obama waits backstage before participating in a panel discussion in Atlanta, Georgia, March 29 (White House/Pete Souza)

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who liked 2016. Just about every safe assumption about the future was challenged. To top the year off, the United States even abstained from a veto on the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, rewriting at the last moment the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has been a roller coaster, but what has it all meant? Read more “2016 in Geopolitical Review”

Season of Discontent: Parallels Between Brexit and Trump

British parliament London
Westminster Palace in London, England (Unsplash/Matt Milton)

The winter of 1978-79 is remembered in Britain as the Winter of Discontent. There were mass strikes and inflation spiraled out of control. The situation led to the election of Margaret Thatcher that spring and the rise of neoliberal policies.

Could the summer and autumn of this year one day be remembered in a similar way?

In both Britain and the United States, there have been revolts against the establishment and the status quo, leading to calls for radical change. Read more “Season of Discontent: Parallels Between Brexit and Trump”

Let’s Stop with the Referendums

Britain’s accidental withdrawal from the European Union should give other countries pause before consulting their own voters directly in a referendum again.

The problem with referendums is that complicated political questions don’t usually lend simple “yes” or “no” answers.

The whole point of parliamentary democracy is that we can elect people to make such choices for us; to weigh the costs and benefits, to think through the long-term consequences, to make sure one group isn’t disproportionately affected over another. Most voters don’t have the time nor the interest to be part-time politicians themselves. Read more “Let’s Stop with the Referendums”

How We Got to Brexit

British parliament London
Westminster Palace in London, England (Unsplash/Matt Milton)

So they went ahead and did it.

They were warned; boy, were they warned. Economist after economist, leaders both near and far, even their own prime minister, all with the same line: to leave is to suffer. Upon the eve of the vote, even the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) did not fully believe Britons would do such a thing.

But they did and clearly so. 52 to 48 percent, a democratic majority if ever there was one, with high turnout and nary a voting irregularity.

I argued last week that Brexit or not, the world curves toward union: the costs of isolation, of high walls, of strict migrant controls far outweigh the supposed benefits. The markets seem to agree, as the pound slumps, the United Kingdom heads for recession and two of the three major political parties endure various levels of meltdown.

Even in geopolitics, punishment like that rarely comes so swiftly. Read more “How We Got to Brexit”

British Exit “Wake-up Call” for Europe: Dutch

David Cameron Mark Rutte
British prime minister David Cameron visits his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, in The Hague, March 24, 2014 (10 Downing Street)

Parties in the Netherlands regret Britain’s decision to leave the European Union but are also motivated to press ahead with their own plans to reform the bloc.

Halbe Zijlstra, the parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party, said on Monday that he understands the British were dissatisfied with the “European express train that keeps thundering on.”

“This sentiment lives in the Netherlands as well,” he said.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, another liberal party member and the defense minister, told the European Parliament the next day the vote in the United Kingdom should come as a “wake-up call to us all.” Read more “British Exit “Wake-up Call” for Europe: Dutch”

Anger and Disbelief Among Young Britons After EU Referendum

British parliament London
Westminster Palace in London, England at night, December 21, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)

Much has been written in recent days about what the vote to leave the European Union has managed to bring upon the United Kingdom: a rudderless government, a Labour Party in crisis and threats of Scottish independence.

What about the everyday? Obviously the world did not implode on Thursday and life is going on, people commuting to and from work. Yet there is a palpable sense of loss, uncertainty, perhaps even shock — especially among the young.

The referendum revealed stark divisions, not just between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom but within England itself and between generations. It is these divisions that have led to the current somber atmosphere. Read more “Anger and Disbelief Among Young Britons After EU Referendum”

Shock of EU Exit Reverberates Through British Politics

London England
Aerial view of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey in London, England (Unsplash/Ricardo Frantz)
  • Britain’s Conservative Party is looking for a new leader. David Cameron announced his resignation after losing the EU referendum.
  • Home Secretary Theresa May is seen as the strongest contender.
  • The opposition Labour Party is in revolt against its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. There are rumors of a split.
  • Gibraltar and Scotland are in talks to try and find a way to stay in the EU. Read more “Shock of EU Exit Reverberates Through British Politics”

British Vote to Leave: A Victory for Putinist Pseudo-Politics

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin looks out a window in Budapest, Hungary, February 17, 2015 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

As I see it, the Brexit vote signaled the worrying deterioration of political discourse in the West.

While it would obviously be a mistake to blame it on Vladimir Putin, I am pretty sure that the Russian president rejoices in the result, not in the least because it is the first triumph of the sort of postmodern pseudo-politics that is hallmarked by his name and that aims to create a world where facts are irrelevant, truth is non-existent and where semblance and suspicion define the acts of a political community. I’d call it Putinism but it has different faces, variants and names throughout the world — from Viktor Orbán to Nigel Farage to Donald Trump.

This pseudo-politics is a challenge that the EU has not found an answer to. Britain’s vote to leave had much to do with appalling leadership from both the Conservative and the Labour Party, neither of which made a positive argument for remain.

When the prevailing sentiment is uncertainty — justified or not — arguing for the status quo without a compelling “story” is close to impossible. And this is what the EU has become for too many (although not, as we’ve seen from the example of young Britons outraged by the vote, all): the status quo rather than a project or a vision. Jean-Claude Juncker promised to make the EU more political exactly with the purpose of improving this situation and he has certainly failed.

British Vote to Leave EU Roils Western World

François Hollande David Cameron
British prime minister David Cameron and French president François Hollande pay their respects at the First World War memorial in Pozières, March 3 (10 Downing Street/Georgina Coupe)
  • Britain shocked its allies on Thursday, when it voted 52 to 48 percent in a referendum to leave the European Union.
  • The remaining 27 member states want Britain to make haste, but Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will not trigger Britain’s exit at next week’s European Council.
  • Britain’s departure is a diplomatic disaster for France, Europe’s only other nuclear power. Read more “British Vote to Leave EU Roils Western World”

British EU Exit Would Be Diplomatic Disaster for France

François Hollande David Cameron
French president François Hollande and British prime minister David Cameron visit Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, January 31, 2014 (RAF/Dave Rose)

François Heisbourg reports from Paris that Britain’s decision to leave is a diplomatic disaster for France, Europe’s only other nuclear power.

Whitehall’s energies will be devoted to negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU over the next two years. That will distract its attention from the United Nations where Britain and France often work together as permanent members of the Security Council.

The French will press for the continued implementation of the Lancaster House defense treaty, which binds the two countries in military terms, writes Heisbourg, notably in the crucial area of nuclear warhead stewardship.

There’s a problem there in terms of Scotland’s renewed independence bid. The British nuclear deterrent is based in Faslane, Scotland. The ruling SNP has been opposed to their presence for years. If Scotland secedes from the United Kingdom, a new base would have to be found for the nuclear-armed submarines, which could leave France as the only Western power this side of the Atlantic with a credible nuclear deterrent for several years. It’s not a position the French like to be in. Read more “British EU Exit Would Be Diplomatic Disaster for France”