International Tension

There have been two situations on the international scene lately that have the potential to bring the close of 2018 into the likelihood of a serious deterioration in international peace and prosperity, although the first is probably going to be put to one side after more arm-waving and pontificating. This one involves three Ukrainian naval vessels trying to get from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, and in particular to their port of Mariupol, the port for south east Ukraine. These vessels were stopped, some by ramming, and arrested by the Russian coastguard, possibly the navy, and FSB officers. The incident occurred at a place that would be within the territorial waters of Russia, although Ukraine does not recognize Crimea as being part of Russia, which would alter the argument. Ukraine states that it started just outside such territorial waters, but has not provided accurate and detailed coordinates and in any case the Ukrainian ships proceeded into clear territorial waters. There is apparently a 2003 agreement that the Kerch Strait is a shared waterway, which allows free passage.

This has created the usual heat and not much light. Time magazine had an opinion by retired US Admiral Stavridis that makes a number of interesting statements. The first is that Putin more or less engineered this because the Mueller investigation is “coming to a head” (really?) and there was a need for the US to persuade its allies to take a firmer stand with Russia. (How does the second follow from the first?) Also the US should bolster Ukrainian defence, presumably to make Putin regret engineering this. Leave aside the bluster, notice anything? The Ukrainian ships had to enter the waters around the Kerch strait, so Ukraine controlled the timing. That makes it difficult for Putin to have engineered it. A further statement was that Russia needed to secure communications and control this Strait “to truly consolidate Crimea”. Needless to say, what is missing from this article is the fact that Russia has secured communication by building a bridge across the Strait. Access to the Sea of Azov requires passing under the bridge, which involves a relatively narrow piece of waterway. As an Admiral, he should know something about ship handling. Do you want two ships coming head-on into a very narrow choke-point? The Russians argue that anyone can pass through, but they must register the intention so that traffic control can be maintained. That seems reasonable to me. The Ukrainian sailors apparently have said they did not register, and they were ordered to ignore Russian controls. Form your own opinion, but it seems to me that Ukraine was deliberately trying to prod Russia. Why? Well, one theory is that Ukrainian elections are due in a few months, Poroshenko currently would be lucky to get 25% of the vote, so why not generate a foreign crisis? The significant point about this, for me, is the US position as stated by this Admiral: what is stated is at best half-truths, and the really important information is left out.

The second incident was that Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Huawei, has been arrested at Vancouver airport in order that she be extradited to the US to face unspecified crimes, but ones that probably relate to the fact that Huawei is selling telecommunications equipment to Iran. That is about all we know for sure, but apparently John Bolton knew this could occur in advance and presumably approved of it.

Going back a bit, a number of countries signed a deal with Iran that they would trade with it if Iran agreed not to proceed with the development of nuclear weapons. The US then pulled out of the deal, seemingly on the basis  that Trump believes that if when a deal has been struck, if he then pulls out at some future random time he can add more concessions to make a new deal more favourable to himself. Iran has refused Trump’s rhetoric, which is basically to side with Saudi Arabia against Iran. So the US imposed sanctions against Iran, and has stated it will sanction anyone else who deals with Iran. A number of other signatories did not impose sanctions when Iran has seemingly complied with the deal. The EU has stated that the EU will continue to trade with Iran as long as it maintains its part of the nuclear weapons deal. Thus the usual explanation for Meng’s arrest is that Huawei is breaking US sanctions by supplying to Iran. If this is so, does this not introduce a rather ugly precedent?

Thus we have the situation where if another country continues with a deal that the US joined, but then arbitrarily pulled out of, then the US requires the other countries to follow the US dictates, and if they do not, the US will arrest their citizens. That makes the president of the US almost able to dictate to the rest of the world.

Huawei is having a bad time, thanks to the US. A number of countries have been told by the US they should not implement Huawei 5G technology for undefined security reasons. As far as security goes, why does the US feel its technology is so secure? If it is secure, why are various politicians making continual assertions of election hacking? As it happens Huawei 5G technology appears to be more advanced than any US technology in telecommunications, and this has the ugly theme of if you can’t compete fairly, you will bully the opposition. This to me is the misuse of power. However, China is not really a country that will bow down to bullying. Apparently China had made concessions to Trump to buy more US exports before they knew about this arrest. What is the bet this won’t go ahead? But worse than that, by what right do you arrest a citizen of another country who is following the law of the country they live in just because (a) that country is in a spat with the US, and (b) the person was apparently in a transit lounge. A person cannot follow two contradictory laws, so why does the US think its Presidential edicts prevail everywhere?

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