Foreign policy

George Packer has written a fascinating profile of Angela Merkel. As well as revealing the German chancellor’s views on Vladimir Putin, and explaining her cool decision-making process, the New Yorker writer includes this quote from Stefan Reinecke of the left-wing newspaper Die Tageszeitung about Ms Merkel’s views on welfare:

“Half an hour into every speech she gives, when everyone has fallen asleep, she says three things. She says Europe has just seven per cent of the world’s people, twenty-five per cent of the economic output, but fifty per cent of the social welfare—and we have to change this.”

 Read more

An independent Scotland would not have to join the EU. But most Scots want Scotland to be an EU member and it is a central plank of SNP policy. There is no precedent, however, for what happens if part of a member state becomes independent and wishes to remain part of the EU. (Greenland, Germany and Czechoslovakia are all relevant but different cases.) This is one reason why both sides have been vigorously engaging in claim and counter-claim over EU law.

 Read more

According to the old saw, the past is a different country. But different countries are keener on their pasts than others, as this chart from IpsosMori suggests:

This is one of many fascinating findings in the pollster’s Global Trends Survey, an annual report produced from samples from 20 countries. One theme that emerges is the divergence between the US and China on issues such as how keen people are to embrace new technology, new brands, and how optimistic they are for the next generation. In general, China is looking forward while the US is looking back. Read more

Ed Miliband’s announcement on the EU in the Financial Times today is partly a recognition of this:

But it is also made with a keen awareness of this:

The Labour leader is trying to stem the bleeding of support from his party to those on the right. Europe might not be a salient issue but in today’s populist climate, it is a symbolic one. Read more

The policy document on Ukraine carried by an official and photographed on Downing Street states that “the UK should not support for now trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre to Russians”. It has been cited as evidence that the UK government is putting the interests of the City above that of Crimea. But it does say “for now”, and it suggests that the government is considering travel bans and visa restrictions along with other EU countries. On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that economic options remained open. Read more

“We must at least take consolation in the thought that we did not begin the war, that we are only defending our country, our native land.”

- Leo Tolstoy, Sevastopol Stories, 1855

Young Leo was writing rare nonsense but he is nonetheless instructive.

Over the weekend, in response to events in Crimea, there was an outpouring of analysis about Russia and how “the west” should respond. It was as if the focus of the foreign policy establishment hurriedly and belatedly shifted back to Russia; during the past few days one can almost hear the sound of dust being blown off cold war books. (Remember when we laughed at Mitt Romney for his comments about Russia?) The facts on the ground are what matter most but for anyone wanting perceptive comment and analysis, I have tried to link to or excerpt some of the best below. Read more

In an interview with the Telegraph, Paul Skyes, a eurosceptic businessman who claims he spent nearly £5m campaigning against Britain joining the single currency, announces he is now “going to roll some guns out” for the United Kingdom Independence party. Mr Skyes, who interestingly insists “I am not in party politics,” will fund Nigel Farage’s party ahead of the European parliament elections, where UKIp is forecast to receive the most votes. Read more

The idea that the UK government changed the date of its Autumn statement to fit with Chinese plans hurt is an understandable source of hurt for little England, even if it is quite funny to think that some people believe it is a cup final day in the political calendar rather than a hastily arranged pre-season friendly dating back to the last government. But the idea that David Cameron should not go to China at all, as Simon Jenkins argues in today’s Guardian; well that’s a good one. Read more

On Wednesday morning, the National Audit Office published a report on government efforts to increase UK exports. Under the coalition, foreign policy has acquired a greater emphasis on trade and investment. The government has two targets for 2020: to double exports to £1tn from £500bn in 2012, and to have 100,000 more companies exporting than was the case in 2011. Here is how the first one is going.  Read more

If you alight at Hackney Central railway station, there is a good chance you will slope on to the platform amid one of London’s glorious human hodgepodges. There will be first and second-generation migrants, white working-class people, scraggly bearded-hipsters, advance armies of gentrifying families – and dozens of Chinese shoppers. Rather than pay high prices in central zone one, this latter group – middle rather than upper-class Chinese tourists – have come east for the retail outlets of Burberry, Pringle and Aquascutum that are nestled outside of the London Overground station. Following the liberalisation of the UK’s rules for tourist visas, there will probably be more Oyster Card adventurers. Read more

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. The reaction has been “quite negative”, according to a Guardian summary. In part, this is because the prize did not go to Mallala Yousafzai. It is anti-climactic when the celebrators of Mandela, Walesa, King and Gorbachev opt for a faceless bureaucracy. The award also feels like an incentive for future efforts rather than a celebration of past endeavours. Read more

Vladimir Putin has an op-ed in The New York Times reassuring Americans that he is on their side. Its cuddliness brought to mind the west’s wartime image of another Russian leader. I am surprised this one did not sign the piece Uncle Vlad. Read more

In the UK, the House of Commons vote to reject action revealed these gaps through a baroque display of incompetence. In the US, the House of Representatives could be set to affirm these divisions. And given that the House is inherently more attuned to US public opinion, it might show us something about American society, too. That is unless Mr Obama can persuade Congress otherwise. Read more

On Thursday night, a British government lost a vote on military action for the first time in at least 100 years. The House of Commons voted 285 to 272 against the UK government’s non-binding motion for possible military action in Syria. David Cameron said that: “It’s clear to me that the British parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action; I get that, and I will act accordingly.” Phillip Hammond later confirmed that there would be no UK participation in any US intervention. Read more

In foreign policy, legality is often an afterthought. It is no different in the case of Syria. International law – a mix of treaties, customs, norms, standards, resolutions and rules without a universally accepted third party enforcement mechanism – should come second to questions of morality and strategy. Ordinary Syrians probably care little for esoteric debates about jus ad bellum. Nevertheless, it is worth reading the UK government’s legal position on military intervention against the Assad regime. By resting its case on humanitarian intervention, Britain is making a flimsy and bold legal argument. Read more

“Illegal, yet legitimate”, was the Independent International Commission on Kosovo’s verdict concerning Nato’s military intervention in 1999 against the Serbian government. As the US, UK and others discuss action against Syria, the war in Iraq inevitably looms large. However, it is the case of Kosovo that is being studied by lawyers inside the Obama administration (according to the New York Times) and debated on legal blogs. Read more