Weekly Roundup (27 March-31 March)

Dick Cheney: Russia meddling in the US election could be ‘an act of war’

28 March 2017, Washington D.C., United States – Business Insider Australia – Former US Vice President Dick Cheney at a business summit came down heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin. He stated that Putin is angling for the occupation/integration of the Baltics and then went on to say that Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election could be “considered an act of war”.

Cheney, a controversial figure in the Bush administration (2000-2008) is a known hawk on security issues and someone who firmly believes in American exceptionalism.

It is perhaps not surprising that he chose his moment carefully before saying what he did.

Cheney is no man of peace. We need to remember that he was one of the chief architects of the Iraq War of 2003, an unnecessarily aggressive action that took out a country critical to the workings of the Middle East balance of power. In doing so, Cheney aided his and his fellow traveller’s corporate interests in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq while restructuring post-war Iraq’s oil industry (which under the late dictator Saddam Hussein was a nationalised entity), to a free market system in which oil profits largely went offshore to American and ‘allied’ interests.

So for Cheney to make these public remarks about Putin and the Russian president’s ambition in Europe is a little like ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.

China able to deploy warplanes on artificial islands any time – US think tank

28 March 2017, Washington D.C., United States – Reuters – the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) under its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, argues that China was now in the position to deploy combat aircraft at three air bases in the hotly contested Spratly Islands and in the Paracel Islands, giving the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) effective over flight over the entire South China Sea area.

Coupled with the prepositioning of anti-aircraft missiles at these Chinese outposts give the US very few hard power options to push the Chinese presence from these maritime chokepoints short of war. Nonetheless, the American maritime capability in the Western Pacific dwarfs anything the Chinese can provide and it will be decades before the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has the capacity to match US naval power.

This is not to suggest that a clash between the US Navy and the PLAN would be a ‘sure thing’, and that in any such incident, there would be no US casualties. But the US has the ability to escalate a conventional maritime stoush with the Chinese in a way that China could simply not sustain against the US.

US sees a resurgent Russian military expanding into Afghanistan, Libya

28 March, Washington D.C., United States – CNN Politics – Pentagon officials have expressed their concern that President Putin’s ambitions for Russian power in the Middle East are not confined to Syria and the Assad regime. That in fact, Russia is now asserting itself in other areas where, if successful, it could consolidate significant strategic gains, in places such as Libya and Afghanistan.

US Army General Joseph Votel, standing before the Senate Armed Service Committee argued that Russia is trying to exert its influence in this part of the world, capitalising on the current geopolitical turmoil and US distractions with allegations of Russian interference in last year’s US national election.

Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal put forward the view that Russia was engaged in a new sort of imperialism where its primary aim is to destabilise NATO and the US.

But what these analyses (learned as they may be) fail to outline, are the very real limits to Russian strategic power.

Modern Russia is the rump of the former Soviet Union, a global power that was second only to the United States in conventional military and nuclear strength. It could and did deploy power outside of the European theatre into the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Today’s Russia is a pale shadow of the USSR. It has to pick its fights carefully and is very sensitive to overstretch.

It is only the absence of American will to confront the Russians directly, as we saw with Obama in Syria and we are now seeing with Trump who is actively retrenching American global commitments everywhere, that Russia is free to challenge the US-led international order. Barring a shift in attitudes in Washington D.C., America’s war-weary population, coupled with a political leadership caught-up in its own existential crisis, will fail to make America great as it once was. We may have to get used to seeing a far smaller American presence and one that is not so ready to commit to the defence of the post-World War II, post-Cold War order it founded and sustained.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk tells UK: ‘We already miss you – thank you and goodbye’

29 March 2017, London, United Kingdom – ibtimes.co.uk – Brexit is triggered. British Prime Minister Theresa May has invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, in one of the most daring acts of post-war Britain.

Will leaving the EU work to the UK’s favour, or will it be a complete folly? The jury is still out and we now have two years of ongoing negotiations between London and Brussels to see what sort of parting of the ways there will be – an acrimonious one, or a harmonious one. All indications are that Brexit may not be the ‘end of time’ as forecast by many who queried the result of the Brexit Referendum. But it will be highly destabilising before the next two years are up because with Brexit comes the spectre of a new Scottish referendum on independence and possibly a Northern Irish one as well.

If either of these referenda were conducted prior to London concluding a relatively amicable break from the EU, would only add to London’s misery and uncertainty – especially if the results were in favour of independence from England. That might result in England and Wales pulling up the drawbridge to Europe and acting in an aggressively defensive manner to its Continental neighbour. And here we are making the assumption that an independent Scotland and or Northern Ireland would be welcome within the EU fold.

In a slight to May’s letter on triggering Article 50, EU Council President, Donald Tusk, said, “[w]e already miss you. Thank you and goodbye”. But with the EU mired in financial problems of its own, we cannot dismiss the fact that Brexit just might have saved the UK from going down with the EU ship, especially if insolvent Italian and German banks saddled with debt, start to collapse as some have speculated.

What will be interesting to observe will be the atmospherics of the 2017 round of the Eurovision Song Contest, the notoriously politically apolitical international jamboree. How will the UK contestant be received?

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