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Sensemaker: Nato’s eastern edge

Tuesday 15 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • A independent report into the 1987 killing of Daniel Morgan – Britain’s most investigated, unsolved murder – will conclude that the investigation was routinely hampered by police corruption.
  • Almost a third of EU residents used personal connections to access healthcare during the Covid pandemic, according to the Global Corruption Barometer.
  • The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor sought authorisation to investigate crimes against humanity during the Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” in which more than 6,000 people have been killed.

Nato’s eastern edge

A summit for the members of Nato, the 30-nation defence alliance, marked something of a return to normality: Joe Biden is a fairly conventional US president on foreign policy. Donald Trump’s lukewarm view of Nato (and flirtation with Russia) is now in the past. As Mario Draghi put it: “This summit is part of the process of reaffirming, rebuilding the fundamental alliances of the United States weakened by the previous administration.” Biden was blunt: “I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there.”

Russia, of course, remains Nato’s main concern. Nato is, before all else, aimed at preserving the security of Europe against Russia. Biden is set to meet Vladimir Putin in Geneva this week. He said: “If he chooses not to cooperate, and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.”

But the official communiqué also looked ahead to a new issue. It noted that “China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.” Keep it in perspective: China merited 10 mentions to Russia’s 63. While Russia is a “threat”, China poses “challenges”.

But the condemnation of China is pretty tough. There is only an oblique reference to the crimes against humanity continuing in Xinjiang: “coercive policies which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty” (the founding of Nato). 

The state is condemned for using “disinformation”. China is “rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads”. It is “opaque in implementing its military modernisation” and cooperating with Russia – including in exercises in the “Euro-Atlantic area”. 

There is a range of views on China in Nato: the US is tougher than much of Europe. But Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of Nato, hinted where pressure from Nato is now being applied to its members: “We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure. We need to respond together as an alliance.” 

A more concerted push to nudge China out of critical infrastructure is the likely next step. The blacklisting of Huawei, the Chinese tech company, is just a start. Italy is reviewing its participation in the so-called “Belt and Road” initiative. The UK, in principle, is committed to letting China be a major investor in its energy infrastructure. We will see.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

A bad trade 
We may get a clearer view of the UK’s political priorities this week: the beginnings of a trade agreement between Britain and Australia have been agreed. A reminder: if the UK accepts goods onto its market that are not allowed in the EU, this will make it harder to have seamless trade with the EU – and that means checks on the Great Britain-Northern Ireland sea route. Northern Ireland is already in a simmering crisis over those checks – and the threat to the peace comes from unionists feeling betrayed by Westminster. Colum Eastwood, the leader of Northern Ireland’s SDLP, no unionist, put it pithily (if perhaps unfairly on Aussie farmers): London was “prioritising cheap, dodgy beef from Australia over the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland and reducing checks in the Irish sea”. 


New things technology, science, engineering

Ransomware
As a former education reporter, I still hear a lot about what preoccupies school leaders. And the rise of ransomware as a problem has suddenly become a major issue. GCHQ, the UK’s signals intelligence arm, is now warning that this crime-wave is a significant threat: “For the vast majority of UK citizens and businesses, and indeed for the vast majority of critical national infrastructure providers and government service providers, the primary key threat is not state actors but cybercriminals.” This is all driven by cryptocurrencies, which let people collect their ransoms without fear of law enforcement.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Predictable delay
As regular readers would have expected, England has delayed its reopening: the downside risk to ploughing on with the plan to end social distancing and other measures on 21 June massively outweighed any possible reopening. The Delta variant’s extreme transmissibility means that the country needs four more weeks of measures (and vaccinations) to contain the virus. At the moment, it is finding around 52,000 cases per week – but that number is doubling roughly every 10 days. The UK is paying a price for its failure to close the borders against travellers from Delta hotspots, notably India. Cynics will note that the UK was hoping to run a trade mission trip to India at the critical moment. 


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Delicious waste
Scientists have engineered bacteria that can help turn plastic bottles into vanillin – a vanilla-flavouring chemical. The Guardian reports that vanillin is used “widely in the food and cosmetics industries and is an important bulk chemical used to make pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and herbicides”. We already had enzymes that break the plastic down into terephthalic acid: the bacteria then goes to work on this product. The significance of the move is that making recycling more profitable is the best way to increase recycling.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Zombie apocalypse
One of the most striking things about the current economic situation is: few people are going bust. John Authers’ latest investment newsletter for Bloomberg highlights that whether you look at the total value of companies going into insolvency or their total number, they’re down. He cites an analyst, Jim Reid, who argues: “We’ve moved away from creative destruction and towards an economy with a higher percentage of zombie companies… While this is great for credit investors [who might have loaned companies money] it’s not necessarily good for long-term economic growth.” This feels like it might become an argument heading forward.

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can.

Chris Cook
@xtophercook

Photographs by Getty Images


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