Is globalisation killing itself?


As I watch COVID 19 unravel across the world and think about the countries still to be hit, I also think about the interconnected nature of the international community. And I wonder what the post World War 2 architects who designed many of the international institutions we have today, would think of the situation we find ourselves in.

The United States, a country whose previous bout of isolationism came an abrupt end on 07 December 1941, could be entering a new period of distancing itself from the world. An isolationist government is withdrawing one of globalism’s primary architect nations. President Donald Trump’s down scaling of U.S. involvement in organizations like the World Health Organization, U.N.E.S.C.O. and others points to either a belief that globalism is bad, or a misunderstanding – deliberate or otherwise – of how the international community works. Along with international and internal appointments of people who do not believe in their agencies and their respective missions, this could be pointing to a mistrust in the global community.

Despite Trumpian isolationism taking hold in America, much of the world seems to be veering towards a more and more globalised society. Trade agreements are aimed at breaking down economic barriers. Bodies such as the European Union and African Union, military alliances such as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and A.(N.Z.)U.S. are aimed at addressing governance and security across international regions. The hard borders that used to be defined by border crossings, fences and guards are gone.

But have we become too globalised? When one thinks about the barriers that have been abolished and the COVID19 outbreak now engulfing nations, would the existence of them have slowed down and/or contained the virus? Would having to fill out a medical declaration as part of a regular border check help to contain the virus? Electronic Travel Authorisation’s might be intended to save a whole lot of questions at the border, but areĀ  they on their own enough to certify the suitability of a person wanting to enter a country? In the European Union someone who picks up the disease in France, might reach Poland by train before they realize that they have it.

In recent years, those borders that once had crossings, guards and fences are starting to become hard borders again. This time it is not Cold War geopolitics driving the problem, but a continual influx of economic migrants from Africa, from the former colonies of European powers that to this day do not seem to want to admit their historic culpability. Many of these European nations still have background activities they want to conduct inside their old colonies, such as France’s security and intelligence apparatus collaborating with the Algerian authorities to prop up a government of questionable repute.

Another example of globalisation’s excesses is well highlighted by the inane rules that the European Union has come up with for basic everyday items such as banana’s. The fact that European Members of Parliament are perceived to lack accountability, and that no E.U. Parliamentary election has had more than 50% turn out, tells me many Europeans do not much care for it.

In Africa, the African Union, a multinational governing body representing many of the poorest countries on the planets poorest continent, faces a host of issues. Corruption of officials is probably the major one, but also the weak legal frameworks in most A.U. member states, makes it difficult to achieve the goals that Western institutions such as the World Bank and the I.M.F. set. And those bodies themselves are hardly known for having a good understanding of African nations and their societies, never mind the billion or so inhabitants.

Africa, often perceived as the poor mans continent for obvious reasons, is most probably the least understood and certainly the least respected. France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Britain and Portugal for the most part did not teach their colonies how to build a functional legal system; hold democratic elections or what sound economics look like. As a result the millions of near destitute people you see living in what to many of us would look like squalor, unsurprisingly move to greener pastures in any way they can. And decades of this has now seen flash points developing where migrants desperate to escape their hell move into low socio-economic areas, that start to resemble ghettos. Drugs, violence, monetary rackets are the norm.

And it is out of the push back against this, that hardliners like Marine Le Pen and the Front Nationale, Alternative for Deutschland and other hard right wing parties and individuals are getting their support. Just as Mr Trump is pushing back against Latin America for sending so many immigrants – legal or not – these people are pushing back against the migrants. And because none are seeking to address the causes of them coming, or helping their nations of origin to so, the very globalised society promoted by these international bodies is undermining itself.

Possibly fatally.

 

What the appointment of a buffoon as U.K. Prime Minister means for New Zealand


Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges was right to do so when he called Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister of the U.K., a buffoon. Despite Mr Bridges later backtracking and calling it an endearment it was – coming from a conservative New Zealand politician – a surprisingly appropriate estimate.

So, what does Mr Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of an increasingly rabid Conservative Party, mean for New Zealand?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the appointment and noted that Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters has a warm relationship with him. Mr Peters, who was photographed last year with Mr Johnson trying out the phones at the War Rooms of war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill supports Mr Johnson’s pledge to exit the European Union with or without a deal on 31 October 2019.

But is Boris Johnson really the Prime Minister of the U.K. that New Zealand wants or needs to do business with? Granted that he might be forgiven for probably not having read the Defence Capability Plan that Minister of Defence Ron Mark released a couple of months ago, Mr Johnson’s knowledge of New Zealand government policy did not get off to a good start, suggesting that we might be about to purchase several naval frigates from the United Kingdom. Whilst eventual replacements for the frigates have been timetabled into the D.C.P., the timing is not until around 2028-2030, and no ideas about who might be given the contract have been mentioned as yet.

Mr Johnson’s promise of a Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and New Zealand is another potential stumbling block. The trade deal can only happen if the United Kingdom exits the European Union. Whilst this is likely to happen, it is likely to be subject to significant delay as the U.K. Parliament refuses to allow a no-deal Brexit to happen. As chief proponent of no-deal Brexit Mr Johnson is therefore going to find himself and the idea of no-deal Brexit severely challenged in the next few months.

Resistance to the policy platform of Mr Johnson is likely to come from other places as well. An enigma on U.K government policy, he has shown himself to be more liberal on issues around taxation and gay marriage despite being conservative, but at the same time consistently voting against measures to contain and reduce the United Kingdom’s contribution to the worlds man made carbon equation. Mr Johnson has also supported selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite substantial evidence that they are being used to commit war crimes in Yemen.

As a politician who has supported the highly divisive anti-immigrant and anti-European Union, Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party, Mr Johnson is not likely to win himself much support from the left – if any at all. As a politician seen to be cut from the same crude cloth of United States President Donald Trump, with a disregard for the establishment and the rule of law both domestically and internationally, Britain’s reputation as a leading light of the west could be in jeopardy if he swings too far to the right.

For a little country in the south Pacific that tries to comply with international law and maintain an emphasis on everyone having a fair go, Mr Johnson’s appointment might not be the most helpful thing the U.K. has done for New Zealand.

 

 

Brexit: Two weeks until…


On 29 March 2019, people the world over will watch the United Kingdom and European Union to see how Brexit unfolds. They will be watching something that British Prime Minsiter David Cameron, when he decided to put this to the vote in 2013, would have never envisaged happening. Mr Cameron would have been thinking no one will vote “LEAVE”. This was confirmed by his resignation from Parliament within a matter of weeks following the referendum.

Now, more than 2 years after that fateful day on which the vote to leave was held, Britain is teetering ever closer to the completely unknown. It has two weeks to figure out whether it wants a future, potentially crippled by E.U. restrictions; is going to call a hastily organized referendum on whether to continue or reverse course; or hastily rejoin. It has two weeks for Prime Minister Theresa May to salvage a deal from a field of wreckage from previous attempts at achieving a deal.

Two weeks.

But can it? Former Mayor of London, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and favourite of the British right wing, Boris Johnson has always been stridently in favour of just walking away from the European Union. The problem with this approach is aside from being criminally reckless, it is a major middle finger salute to the international and domestic laws, the treatises and other instruments of law that define the basis of the western legal system.

What does Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the U.K. Labour Party want? As a past Eurosceptic, Mr Corbyn has not always been warm to the idea of Britain continuing a leading role in the E.U. It was not until Mr Cameron put the issue of whether to stay or go to a vote that Mr Corbyn seriously swung in behind it. He has said that if Britain leaves the E.U. it cannot remain in the European Single Market. Mr Corbyn has stated many times that the E.U. imposes rules on British employers that would cramp their ability to trade. And despite protests from various members of his Labour caucus, Mr Corbyn has not seriously committed to a second referendum.

There is not much New Zealanders or anyone else in Europe living in the U.K. can do except watch the whole thing unravel and hope that cometh 29 March there are no major problems.

The only economic reassurance is that New Zealand would be high on the British list in terms of priority for a new trade deal should Brexit trigger.

Will Brexit be clean? If I had to guess, highly improbable if not outright impossible. There are simply too many unknowns in what looks like a horrendously complex calculus equation. The deal Mrs May is offering is quite shoddy, but now, short of a hard exit, the cold truth is that the U.K. Parliament and the European Union might have no choice but to accept it.

I have concerns. One of them is that the border between Ireland and the rest of the European Union will become a hard border with check points and guards, and that this might stoke any tensions still existing. What will it mean for other borders and the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel), the Schengen free travel zone and so forth? Good question.

With only two weeks until God knows what happens next, I am only confident that all of this must be starting to play on a fair few millions of peoples nerves both in New Zealand, in the U.K., in the E.U. and around the world.

Potential Brexit trade war bad for New Zealand


Fears are growing that a messy Brexit dissolution of the United Kingdom’s union with Europe could lead to open trade hostilities between the two parties. So great is the fear that Minister of Trade, David Parker, warned the United Kingdom and European Union against commencing trade hostilities.

Trade hostilities do no country any favours. They are the war like equivalent of two countries vying for some sort of supremacy or other advantage, except that tariffs take the place of bullets with exporters and importers being the casualties in the front line. And behind the front line, you and myself, the regular civilian consumers who can only make the best of the market conditions of the day as they can try, are the real losers. With increased costs passed on by importers, they will be more selective as to when they get out the EFTPOS card or the credit card or hard earned money that they will want to know is well spent.

The increasingly messy dissolution of the union between the U.K. and Europe as a result of the 2016 referendum has alarmed many. It stems from the desire of the two parties to divide up tariff rate quotas on agricultural products, The concerns are that this would have a negative impact on how New Zealand meat, butter and cheese gets into the E.U.

In a world with a slowing economy being buffeted by increasingly stormy conditions that exporters and importers have little say over what looks like an increasingly worrisome storm. The combination of E.U. discontent, high petrol prices due to increasing angst over the Iran deal and the desire of the U.S. and Israel to possibly launch military action against the Islamic Republic, to say nothing of a failure to address the causes of the last economic crisis all point to a potentially messy divorce.

In a part of the world where freedom of movement is celebrated by way of the Schengen free zone, people living in member nations can move freely within 27 separate countries.Would the Schengen free zone still exist in an economic sense when the issue is resolved? Would any dissolution of the zone or damage caused by tariffs affect non-European nations ability to conduct trade issues of the day?

None of this can be good for the global economy any more than it could be good for the New Zealand economy. This is shown by the number and range of countries that are opposed to the plan for tariffs. Alongside New Zealand are Canada, United States, Thailand, Uruguay and others.

Two years after that shocking June 2016 announcement that the United Kingdom would seek divorce from the European Union, the real economic costs are only now just starting to come out. And as they do, the criticism of the result whose implications probably not that many voterrs understood is only going to get louder and more diverse.

Was Brexit in a purely economic sense such a great idea now?

Foreign ministers to Trump: Appreciate your allies


Numerous present and former Ministers of Foreign Affairs from around America’s allies have signed a letter to United States President Donald Trump with a warning:

Respect your allies as there is not that many of them

Former New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Don McKinnon is one of those who has signed the letter, said to be fiery in its warning to Mr Trump. The letter comes as Mr Trump arrives in Brussels for a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.)leaders amid deteriorating relations between America and its all important western allies.

Mr Trump has been critical of N.A.T.O. countries for failing to increase their defence spending, and claiming that the United States provides the bulk of the expenditure. This has touched off criticism as – aside from being untrue, it was also the United States that instigated the formation of the N.A.T.O. alliance during the Cold War as part of its containment strategy.

Germany has agreed to increase its expenditure. This however will not be lost on Germans who will no doubt still be wary of putting too much emphasis on defence policy individually, and instead preferring to align it with a general increase in spending across western European nations. In a continent still trying to get away from its colonial past and two hugely destructive World Wars, increases in defence spending are not the sexy beasts that they are perceived as by conservative politicians and commentators in the United States. Germany needs to remember this as it tries to figure out just how big its promised increase will be and on what it will be spent.

Meanwhile in Britain, the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Theresa May has hit the skids. Wobbling violently with two Ministers gone as well as the Vice Chairs of the Conservative Party, one watches with interest to see whether Mrs May can stave off a collapse or will she be forced to for the second time in 15 months call a General Election. Despite being a deeply conservative Prime Minister, Mrs May and her Government have tread the line of making savings throughout Her Majesty’s armed forces, but for how much longer?

The Netherlands and Belgium, scenes of ferocious battles in World Wars 1 & 2, need only to attend a service at the Menin Gate in Belgium at 2000 hours every night to be reminded of the cost of war. Perhaps they would be doing well to drag Mr Trump to one of these ceremonies to remind him just how much some of America’s smaller allies suffered. All around western Belgium and northeast France lie memorials saluting the French, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, British and other nations who suffered dreadful losses in battles such as Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun and others – whether it makes any difference or not for Mr Trump to be reminded is another story altogether.

In a week where so much is at stake with the politics of N.A.T.O., it might be just as well the F.I.F.A. World Cup Final will distract hundreds of millions of people. Maybe Mr Trump and the other leaders can watch it instead of tearing each other to shreds. And reflect on a beautiful friendship between the U.S., and her allies like so many have been reflecting on their relationship with “the beautiful game”.