Foreign affairs

Poland’s prime minister called them a “provocation” that could disturb Poland’s security. Civil groups have called them “criminals”. But to the 100 or so Polish petrolheads that came to welcome Russia’s nationalist Night Wolves biker gang to the country, they were just fellow motorcycle fans. Read more

By Richard McGregor

Shinzo Abe’s visit to the US this week is by any measure a significant moment. Japan’s prime minister will with President Barack Obama consecrate revised guidelines for the US-Japan security treaty, described by one close observer of Japan as the longest surviving alliance between great powers “since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia”.

The pair will also oversee the final negotiations of one of the largest trade pacts in two decades that will bring together 12 Asia-Pacific countries. Finally, Mr Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress.

In a week of landmarks, then, it may be surprising that much of the focus ahead of Mr Abe’s visit is whether he will “apologise” for Japan’s role in the second world war, which ended in Tokyo’s crushing defeat nearly 70 years ago. Read more

Ed Miliband outlines his foreign policy plans at Chatham House in London

If Ed Miliband becomes Britain’s prime minister next month what will this mean for the country’s foreign policy? The question is one that the UK’s allies should start considering because the prospect of him winning power is growing. Betting companies believe there is now a greater chance of Mr Miliband entering Number 10 after the May 7 election than of David Cameron returning to office.

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Just like the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the violence in eastern Ukraine is attracting foreign fighters – some with the pro-Russian separatists, and some with the Ukrainian government forces.

Many of these fighters are from European countries. This makes it curious that we don’t hear much about this phenomenon from European governments – which are, of course, clamping down on citizens who go to fight in the Middle EastRead more

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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