Foreign affairs

EU officials have come under renewed pressure to take action against flotillas of migrants from Africa following the deaths of more than 1,000 people during attempted Mediterranean crossings over the past week alone.

A massive search and rescue operation remains underway to find survivors among the wreckage of a ship thought to be loaded with more than 800 migrants which capsized over the weekend off the coast of Libya, potentially representing the worst maritime disaster of its type in the Med. Only 27 of those on board have been rescued.

The migrant deaths have shone a spotlight on Libya’s lucrative people smuggling industry. While the human cargo consists mainly of young men from Africa and the Middle East, more than 900 children also embarked on the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2015.

In the aftermath of Libya’s bloody civil war, business is booming for the people traffickers. These figures illustrate why. Read more

Predictions that the war in Ukraine might be past its worst point can only be advanced with caution and caveats. Over the past 18 months, the western world has been consistently surprised by unexpected escalations and brutal events – from the annexation of Crimea to the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. Even now, fighting continues. Last week, saw an escalation of conflict around Donetsk, with six killed in one day.

And yet, for all that, a cautious optimism is growing in the west that the fighting may be past its worst. There are still armed militias on the ground and intermittent fighting continues. But, against expectations, the Minsk peace accords negotiated last February, seem to have succeeded in damping down the conflict. One well-placed EU diplomat calls the new situation, a “hybrid peace” – a play on the well-known idea that Russia is fighting a hybrid war. Read more

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Immersed in thoughts about whether Greece will strike a last-minute deal with its foreign creditors to avoid a debt default, I found myself on Tuesday evening outside an Athens souvenir shop selling a T-shirt with this slogan:

To be is to do – Plato
To do is to be – Aristotle
Do be do be do – Sinatra Read more

Listen to the International Monetary Fund and you are liable to think it is giving out two contradictory messages. Last week Christine Lagarde, head of the fund, said the world was at risk of falling into a “new mediocre” and global growth was “not good enough”. Today her chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, is keen to stress medium term growth rates are “not the end of the world” and “there is no reason for doom and gloom”.

Bizarrely, these messages are not the contradiction they seem. How so – and what are the other four things to note in the IMF’s April 2015 World Economic Outlook. Read more

In the lead-up to Hillary Clinton’s long-awaited announcement that she is running for president, potential Republican rivals for the presidency and GOP party leaders have had plenty of time to formulate an opposition strategy that has quickly coalesced around a single meme: “Stop Hillary”.

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By Gideon Rachman
Is military and ‘soft power’ enough to make up for relative US economic decline? Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Amid all the talk of a new cold war, it is easy to forget that there are parts of the world where the cold war never ended. A couple of weeks ago I visited one of them. On the south side of the demilitarised zone that divides the Koreas, tourists use telescopes to stare into the North . A giant flag from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it styles itself, flutters in the breeze. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Rome fell. Babylon fell. Hindhead’s turn will come.” George Bernard Shaw’s bon mot in Misalliance was a reminder to British theatre audiences in 1910 that all empires eventually decline and fall. The fact that Hindhead is an English village was a light-hearted cloak for a serious point.

The publication of “The Second Machine Age” by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson last year sparked a debate over the impact of technological change on the workplace. The spread of computers, alongside the high unemployment rates experienced by many rich countries during the Great Recession, have raised fears that advanced economies may be heading for an age of mass joblessness. Capital is set to replace labour on an unprecedented scale – so the argument goes – squeezing wages while entrepreneurs and shareholders enjoy ever fatter profits. Read more

  • As the US moves closer to a nuclear deal with Tehran that could end decades of estrangement, it simultaneously finds itself scrambling to curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East
  • The contours of Russia’s new national ideology have become clear in the Ukraine crisis; its foundations are nostalgia for a glorious past, resentment of oligarchs, materialism and xenophobia
  • Despite being engulfed in news about corruption, Latin America is showing advances in strengthening institutions and holding the powerful to account
  • Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov has upgraded his country from pawn to rook as central Asia’s chess master uses the rivalry between China, Russia and the US to its advantage (Foreign Policy)
  • The provision of an hallucinogenic drug to inmates in the middle of the rain forest reflects a continuing quest for ways to ease pressure on Brazil’s prison system (New York Times)

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The scramble by European countries to join China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a powerful symbol of the eastward shift of global power

Soldiers of fortune from apartheid-era South Africa that inspired the Hollywood thriller ‘Blood Diamond’ are starring in Nigeria’s attempt to flush out Boko Haram terrorists

Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil conflict has turned up the heat on a simmering cold war between regional Sunni Arab states and their Shia rival, Iran

If the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallström affair, argues Nick Cohen (The Spectator)

Chad’s strongman president, Idriss Déby, says Nigeria is absent in the fight against Boko Haram as Chadian troops defend Nigerian territory from the extremists (New York Times)  Read more

 

Militia men loyal to Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi loot the barracks of the Special Forces in Aden

As Saudi jets launched bombing raids against Yemeni rebel targets, escalating another war in the Middle East, the Sunni world showed remarkable unity. A coalition of the willing — all Sunni — was assembled, stretching from Egypt to Pakistan. Supporters and critics of the Saudi regime alike agreed that it was time to teach Shia Iran.

And yet, Sunni communities should have little cause for satisfaction. It may be understandable that Riyadh considers Iranian backing for advancing rebels in Yemen as a step too far – Yemen is the Saudi backyard after all. But however large the Saudi-led coalition, and however united in its resolve to confront Iran, the latest intervention in Yemen is unlikely to save the country from sliding into all out civil war.

Indeed, Yemen is turning into another worrying case of Saudi-Iranian proxy war, a heightening power struggle that has engulfed other nations in the region and spread mayhem throughout the Middle East. Read more

  • Palestinian leaders and activists have welcomed the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as a propaganda victory that will strengthen their case for international recognition
  • An account of the fall from grace of a Ukrainian oligarch, removed from his regional governor post by Kiev over fears that he had become too powerful
  • The European Commission plans to reboot its digital market reforms with measures to abolish mobile roaming fees, end ‘geoblocking’ of online video and change copyright rules
  • As Iran and Hezbollah try to drive back rebel fighters in southern Syria, they threaten to spur a larger conflict in one of the Middle East’s most volatile regions (Foreign Policy)
  • It’s fine to be gay on Japanese TV — if you’re outlandish and outrageous (Washington Post)

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As the Trans-Pacific Partnership does or doesn’t approach completion, arguments for and against have had another airing, including the contention that the deal is worth doing for foreign policy reasons to enhance the US’s geopolitical standing in Asia.

This is an appealing fall-back for those who don’t like the deal’s content, but is at best one of the weaker arguments in favour. Whether or not agreements help strategic alliances, the intrusive and one-sided nature of pacts negotiated with the US can arouse resentment as well as cooperation. Read more

The death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, has focused attention on the economic miracle he helped to create.

In the three decades since Lee first became prime minister in 1959 until he stepped aside in 1990, per capita income in the city-state rose by a factor of 29, jumping from around $435 to more than $12,700. Nearby Malaysia only managed a ten-fold increase, from $230 to around $2400.

Yet economists remain divided over the causes behind this remarkable take-off.

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Is Bild going soft on Greece? After weeks spent hammering Athens over its debt-fuelled profligacy, the top-selling German tabloid has laid out the welcome mat for Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras for his first visit to Berlin.

“Willkommen in Deutschland, Herr Tsipras,” said Bild in a front page banner headline published hours before the radical leftist was due to meet chancellor Angela Merkel over dinner later on Monday. And just to make sure the visitor got the message, the paper filled the bottom half of its front page reproducing the headline in Greek. Read more

Two decades after the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war, EU governments have finally approved an association agreement with Bosnia-Herzegovina that puts the troubled state on track for eventual membership of the 28-nation union.

This is unambiguously good news for everyone who takes the view that democracy, prosperity and ethnic harmony will only take lasting roots in former Yugoslavia once all the states that emerged from its collapse, as well as neighbouring Albania, are full EU members.

But the EU’s decision to approve Bosnia’s association accord, taken on March 16, must be seen against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis. With Russian-western relations in their worst shape since the end of communism, the Kremlin has made clear over the past year that it intends to ramp up its influence in the Balkans. The EU initiative is a signal that European governments are pushing back. Read more

It seems as if good news is gushing out of Spain these days like water from a Seville fountain.

The economy is expanding at its fastest rate in seven years, leaving behind France, Germany and Italy. The government predicts Spain’s return to growth will create half a million jobs this year. A commercial airline (Ryanair) is going to fly in and out of Castellón airport, the unused, €150m facility near Valencia that was a symbol of wasteful expenditure in Spain’s pre-crisis years.

To cap everything, researchers say they have found, under a Madrid convent, some of the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote and Spain’s most revered literary figure.

If only Greece could boast similar successes – a healing economy, a society recovering from the euro crisis, and the discovery of Homer’s skull under the patio of an Athens taverna.

Without wanting to turn a sprinkler on Spain’s parade, I think a few words of caution are in order. Read more

In his Budget speech to parliament on Wednesday, the UK chancellor George Osborne indulged in the traditional needling of his opponents on the opposite bench. Whether it was a dig at Ed Miliband, Labour leader, for his two kitchens, or at the party’s recent electioneering in a “women-friendly” pink van, his jokes at the opposition’s expense met with the usual roars of raucous approval from his own benches.

But the second biggest target of his needling was rather more surprising – our friends across the Channel. Read more