Books, Foreign Affairs, Government, Politics, United States

Book Review: The Long Game


The Long Game

The Long Game is an apologia by Derek Chollet: a vindication of Mr Obama’s distinctive approach to grand strategy.

WHEN Barack Obama demits presidential office and comes to write his political memoirs they will no doubt be an elegantly persuasive account of the ideas that guided his presidency. But until then “The Long Game”, an apologia by Derek Chollet, is a vindication of Mr Obama’s distinctive approach to grand strategy and is likely to be the closest that anyone will come to understanding the thinking behind U.S. foreign policy that has many critics.

Mr Chollet is qualified and well placed in delivering such a resounding defence of the Obama leadership. He has served in senior positions in the State Department, the National Security Council and the Pentagon and has been close to the action during Mr Obama’s tenure of the White House. His contention is that the foreign-policy establishment in Washington has underestimated the extent of the president’s achievement. Policymakers at home lambast Mr Obama for having overlearned the lessons of Iraq, for his extreme caution and aversion to the use of America’s hard power in support of global order and for a reluctance and unwillingness to shoulder the burdens of leadership. This, say some, has dismayed allies and emboldened foes.

Detractors on the left have been horrified by his cold-bloodied use of drones to kill America’s enemies, his determination to commit to a costly nuclear modernisation programme and his bombing of more countries than George W. Bush. So which is he, asks the author: a woolly-headed liberal idealist or an unsentimental realist?

The answer, as it happens, is neither. Chollet argues that Mr Obama is misunderstood because he likes to play what the writer calls the “long game”. The book portrays the analogy of a president trying to be Warren Buffett in a foreign-policy debate that is dominated and driven by day traders. He has an unwavering view of what is in America’s long-term interests and refuses to be forced by impatient demands for action to intervene in ways that may be temporarily satisfying but have little prospect of success at acceptable cost.

To this end, Chollet asserts with reasonable conviction that Mr Obama has formulated what amounts to a long-game checklist, a series of principles that should be applied to managing American power and making strategic choices. The first of these is balance: balance between interests and values, between priorities at home and abroad, between declared goals in different parts of the world, and between how much America should take on and how much should be borne by allies. And balance, too, in the use of the whole toolbox – military power, diplomacy, economic leverage, and development. Mr Chollet openly contrasts this with the lack of balance Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush: a tanking economy, more than 150,000 troops deployed in two wars and sagging American prestige.

The other key principles of the Obama checklist drawn upon are: sustainability (avoiding commitments that cost too much to stick with); restraint (asking not what American can do but what it should do); precision (wielding a scalpel rather than a hammer); patience (by giving policies the time and effort to work); fallibility (the modesty of what can be achieved); scepticism (a caution of being wary of those peddling easy answers to difficult questions); and, exceptionalism (the recognition that because of its enormous power and attachment to universal values America has a unique responsibility in the world that cannot be ducked).

For the author this mix of cautious pragmatism and realism finds an echo in the approach of two Republican predecessors, Dwight Eisenhower and the first George Bush, whose reputations have grown considerably since their departure from office. Mr Chollet believes that this president’s foreign policy will look pretty good too once hindsight kicks in.

Perhaps. Eminently sensible, however, the checklist appears to be, rather than setting the appropriate conditions for action, it might also be used as a way to do too little, too late. By and large, and it is worth acknowledging, Mr Obama did manage to get right his policies towards China (the ‘rebalancing’ towards Asia was timely and has been quite effective) and Russia (the ‘reset’ of the first term delivered some benefits; when Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and opted for confrontation with the West, Barack Obama responded accordingly). But in Afghanistan, Iraq and, significantly, in Syria, the Obama doctrine has had terrible consequences.

In Afghanistan, Mr Obama’s long-debated troop surge was fatally undermined when he announced that U.S. forces would start to come home in 18 months. He repeated the error in May 2014, announcing that the residual American force in Afghanistan would be fully withdrawn by the end of 2016. He has had to reverse that false promise. By setting timetables for forced reductions unconnected to conditions on the ground, Mr Obama has given encouragement to the Taliban and left Afghan security forces wilfully exposed.

President Obama’s decision to pull all American forces out of Iraq at the end of 2011 was even more disastrous. He used the excuse of the difficulty of negotiating a new status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqis to do what he wanted to do all along. Had a few thousand American troops been left in Baghdad, Mr Obama and his administration would have known much more about the Maliki government’s subversion of the US-trained and US-equipped Iraqi security forces, as well as having had some leverage to prevent it. Some might argue that the emergence of Islamic State in 2014, an organisation that has been able to take and hold Iraqi cities, is a direct result of Mr Obama’s insouciance. Right wing elements in America certainly think so.

The catalogue of errors in Syria is far too long to itemise. Mr Obama’s extreme reluctance to do anything to help the moderate rebels, as well as his failure to punish the regime for crossing his previously declared ‘red lines’ on the use of chemical weapons were turning points that has contributed to the scale of the catastrophe which has since unfurled in the country. While Mr Chollet is reluctant to blame Mr Obama, he was among those arguing for the president to take a different course of action.

Undoubtedly, though, the one clear unambiguous policy success that Mr Obama’s long game can claim is the nuclear accord and deal with Iran. Patient and tactful diplomacy, along with the building of international support for a crippling sanctions regime, combined with a credible threat of military action if all else failed, resulted in an agreement that has effectively dealt with concerns about Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb over the next decade or so. If the deal holds, it will be the defining achievement of the Obama presidency. Not every problem facing American resolve can be approached in the same painstaking, deliberative way.

The president is far from being the inept wuss portrayed by his critics. But nor is he the master of grand strategy that Mr Chollet makes him out to be. His loathing and contempt of the interventionist excesses exploited by his predecessor, his wariness of arguments of “doing more”, a disdain for military advice and his ingrained pessimism about the utility of hard power have had the effect of reducing America’s capacity to do good in a brutally torn world. If Mr Obama is succeeded by Hillary Clinton, she is likely to provide a modest and welcome corrective. If Donald Trump is the next president, the long game that has underpinned most of the Obama doctrine, whatever its defects, will be sorely missed.

The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World. By Derek Chollet. $26.99 and £17.99.


Arts, Drama

Lateral thinking drama and conundrum: ‘Shipwrecked’…


THE FIRST THING Henry Johnson became aware of as he awoke was the warmth of the morning sun. The second was the not-so-distant lap of waves on the shore. And the third was a headache which felt as though someone was gouging out the inside of his skull with a chisel.

Blearily, Henry opened his eyes. He was lying on a sandy beach, about ten metres from the water’s edge. He groaned as memory returned. Yesterday he had been sailing across the southern Pacific, blissfully alone. Then a dark cloud had appeared on the horizon. Quickly it had filled the sky and, as night fell, a tropical storm had broken around him. He had battled for hours to save his boat. He might have succeeded too, if it hadn’t suddenly bucked on a huge wave, causing him to fall back and strike his head against the boom. Dazed, he lost his footing entirely, and slipped from the deck into the sea.

The storm had abated, but his boat was nowhere to be seen. Henry was cast adrift. His life-jacket kept him afloat, but the cold began to seep into his bones. His teeth chattered and he shivered uncontrollably. Eventually, though, the chill seemed to lessen. Lulled by the waves, he felt himself drifting into sleep – a sleep from which (a small part of him was anxiously aware) he would probably never awaken.

Then he was jerked back to full consciousness by his knee scraping against a rock. He realised that the sea here was shallow, and when he looked up he could see a strip of white sand. On the horizon three tall palm trees were silhouetted against the moon. With the last vestiges of strength left in his limbs, Henry began to swim…


…AND NOW IT WAS MORNING. Henry groaned again and sat up. Of his boat, ‘The Happy Wanderer’, there was no sign. The beach was deserted, and he realised the same was probably true of the whole island. There were no cigarette butts in the sand, no discarded cans, no mini-mopeds buzzing in the distance. It appeared that the tour operators had so far overlooked this particular jewel in the South Pacific.

The Sun was getting hotter. Henry realised that, if he was to survive here, his first priority must be finding fresh water. He looked around. The palm trees he had seen last night were a little way inland; other than that, the island seemed to be mainly scrub. Rain was evidently a rare commodity here. Just my luck to be caught in their annual storm, he thought bitterly.

Henry rose unsteadily to his feet. He stripped off the heavy life jacket, so that he was just wearing cut-off jeans and a T-shirt, and headed towards the trees. His survival knowledge was limited, but he had an idea that their presence indicated fresh water nearby. He stumbled over the fine sand. Between the three palms, as he had hoped, there was a small pool. Henry cupped his hands and drank deeply. At least he would not die of thirst…not yet, anyway.

Henry’s head was throbbing, and he realised he had to find some shade. He guessed the temperature to be into the nineties by now, although the sun was still nowhere near its zenith. He looked around. The island appeared flat and offered few possibilities, but further down the beach he could see a few pieces of driftwood. Perhaps they might form the basis of a shelter?

As Henry walked closer, he realised that they were parts of his boat. He even found a bit of the bow with the name ‘The Happy Wanderer’ on it, and some scraps of paper from his charts. His heart sank. Now he knew for sure that there would be no quick return to civilisation. He would have to wait to be rescued: possibly days, possibly weeks, possibly much longer.

Perspiring heavily, Henry gathered all the flotsam that he could find. As well as the wood and scraps of paper, he found a metal drinking mug, a tiny candle and a box of matches. The good news was that the latter had been wrapped in a plastic bag to keep out the damp; the bad news was that inside was only a single match. His most useful find, as far as shelter was concerned, was an oily tarpaulin. Returning to the palms, he built a sort of dug-out in the sand, which he covered with the tarpaulin. Luxury villa it wasn’t, but at least it would give him some protection. He pulled himself inside and, exhausted, fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.


…HE WAS WOKEN by a chill wind. The tarpaulin had blown off, revealing a clear, starry night, and had become caught on one of the palm trees, where it flapped loudly in the wind. Henry wrestled it back from the trunk. In that wind there was no chance of rebuilding his dug-out, so he wrapped the tarpaulin around himself to try to keep out the numbing cold.

Through the rest of the night, Henry slept little. His whole body ached; his head throbbed mercilessly; and his stomach growled, reminding him that he had not eaten for two whole days. He realised that he must have burned up a lot of energy fighting the storm and, later, in the sea. Unless he ate soon, he would become too weak to fend for himself.

The next day, fighting a growing lethargy, he managed to assemble what might be the makings of a meal. There wasn’t much: just a few roots, some insect grubs, a yellow worm, and a small scorpion he had seen almost too late. But if he could start a fire, he might be able to make some kind of stew in the mug. Hands shaking, he collected together all the items he’d gathered from the wreck of his boat.

Henry paused, confused. His stomach was shrieking out for food, but his brain no longer seemed to be functioning correctly. He looked at the little collection in front of him – the scraps of wood he’d dried, the tiny candle and the scraps of paper from his charts – but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out which to light first.

– In order to light a fire, to cook the desperately needed meal, which of the items salvaged from the wreck of ‘The Happy Wanderer’ should Harry light first?

© MarkDowe 2013: all rights protected

Britain, Foreign Affairs, Islamic State, Libya, United Nations

MPs blame Cameron for the rise of Islamic State


Intro: British chaotic intervention in Libya left a vacuum that has let jihadis thrive

Members of Parliament on the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee have warned that the ‘ill-conceived’ military intervention in Libya by David Cameron has helped to fuel the growth of Islamic State and left the world a more dangerous place.

In a devastating verdict, MPs have savaged the former prime minister’s judgement in rushing to war in 2011, saying the intervention was based on ‘erroneous assumptions’.

The cross-party committee accuses Mr Cameron of ignoring military chiefs and a lack of reliable intelligence to pursue an “opportunistic policy of regime change” in Libya.

And it says he gave little thought to how Libya would fare following the removal of dictator Colonel Gaddafi setting the scene for the country’s descent into anarchy and chaos.

The committee says that Mr Cameron’s Libyan adventure ‘was not informed by accurate intelligence’, with ministers underestimating the threat that the country could become an Islamist stronghold.

It concludes: ‘By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunistic policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya.

‘The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Islamic State in North Africa. Through his decision making in the National Security Council, former prime minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy.’

The report, dated September 14, 2016, says Mr Cameron’s failings in Libya means Britain now has a “particular responsibility” to assist the war-ravaged country and help deal with the flood of migrants heading from its shores to Europe.

But it says ministers should not deploy troops to the country until it becomes more stable, warning they would become “an accessible Western Target” for IS and other militants. The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, said: ‘The UK’s actions in Libya were part of an ill-conceived intervention, the results of which are still playing out today.’

An international coalition led by Britain and France launched airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces in March 2011 after the regime threatened to attack the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

Mr Cameron claimed the intervention was necessary to prevent a massacre of civilians, but the new parliamentary report says that, despite appalling human rights abuses over 40 years, Gaddafi had no record of large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.

It says that the Government ‘selectively took elements of Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value’ without assessing the real threat.

MPs find that ministers and officials should have realised that the rebels included a “significant Islamist element”. They add: “The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion would not have been the preserve of hindsight.”

The report also criticises Mr Cameron for ordering military action despite the reservations of the then Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Richards and MPs are scathing about the lack of post-war planning for the country.

The report cites unpublished research by the House of Commons Library showing Britain spent £320million bombing Libya, but just £25million on reconstruction.

Mr Cameron did not give evidence to the inquiry, saying he was too busy. A Foreign Office spokesman said the decision to intervene in Libya was an international one, called for by the Arab League and authorised by the UN.

18 September, 2016:

When David Cameron’s legacy as prime minister is written into the history books, his decision for Britain to join France in the 2011 military intervention against Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is not likely to count in his favour. Insisting he had learnt the lessons and the litany of failures of the Iraq war, Mr Cameron was keen to emphasise that, so far as Libya was concerned, Britain had the full backing of a UN Security Council resolution, and that military intervention was vital if Gaddafi was to be prevented from massacring thousands of anti-government protesters in Benghazi.

But as the damning report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Libya makes clear, Mr Cameron’s attempt to develop a new paradigm for military intervention in rogue states was as flawed as Tony Blair’s arguments for invading Iraq. The report concludes that the decision to intervene was not based on accurate intelligence, the threat to civilians in Benghazi was overstated and the government failed to grasp that among the rebel factions were a significant number of Islamist radical fighters.

As Mr Cameron has already announced his decision to stand down from the House of Commons, he has avoided of being in the position of defending his government’s record in Libya (and also of explaining the role Mr Blair played in encouraging him to act).

Theresa May is yet to make clear her views on how she intends Britain will respond to future global challenges. But with conflicts in places such as Syria continuing to dominate the headlines, it is vital that, if Britain does need to respond militarily, it does not end up repeating the same mistakes Mr Blair and Mr Cameron made.

Foreign Affairs, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, United Nations, United States

Restraining Pyongyang has become problematic


North Korea’s fifth nuclear test: The seismic activity amounted to a total of 5.3 on the Richter scale.

North Korea’s fifth nuclear test: The seismic activity amounted to a total of 5.3 on the Richter scale.

Intro: North Korea’s increasingly forceful stance is making the international community extremely nervous

Some said it was just a matter of time until North Korea carried out another nuclear test. Kim Jong Un, who inherited power from his father in 2011, has accelerated the pace of nuclear bomb testing and the firing of ballistic missiles. Pyongyang would not have been pleased earlier this year with the imposition of new sanctions and would have been agitated with stern talks last week at the ASEAN summit. On September 9th, a national holiday that celebrates the founding of North Korea’s communist regime by Mr Kim’s grandfather, the country announced it had carried out its fifth test.

Troubling. Not least because of the force of the test. The explosion appeared to be at least 10 kilotons, and perhaps as many as 30, making it by far the most powerful device North Korea has yet tested. It triggered an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.3, alerting South Korea of the event before its troublesome neighbour confirmed it.

North Korea’s increasingly forceful stance is making the international community extremely nervous. Intelligence suggests the country has a stockpile of some 20 devices to which one is being added every six weeks. The earlier underground detonation carried out in January almost certainly was not the hydrogen bomb that North Korea had claimed, but that was followed by a series of missile tests. The claim in Pyongyang that it can now send a missile to America may be bluster, but it could almost certainly strike targets in both South Korea and Japan.

Of more concern is the question of whether North Korea can miniaturise a nuclear warhead that could be attached to one of those missiles, and robust enough to endure a trajectory that would take it into space and back. The North boasts that this is now possible, although analysts and observers are sceptical of this claim. But there is no doubt that North Korea is making rapid progress in the development of its nuclear programme. It has clearly become a priority for Mr Kim, who seems to be devoting even more of his country’s relatively meagre resources to it than his father did.

Japan and those in other neighbouring states have become increasingly anxious. They are concerned that the young Mr Kim is far less predictable than his father. While the strength of his grip on the regime is unknown, three of North Korea’s five nuclear tests have been carried out during his five-year rule. This suggests he remains adamant in projecting strength domestically. That might be because he feels insecure, but might equally reflect self-confidence.

The United States, Japan and South Korea have responded with predictably harsh statements. Even China, North Korea’s closest ally, said it ‘resolutely’ condemned the test. Despite Barack Obama having made nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament a personal priority, having pushed for a nuclear deal with Iran and visiting Hiroshima (one of the two Japanese cities on which America dropped nuclear bombs during the second world war), there is worrying little that America and its allies can do to restrain Mr Kim.

In response to the test in January, the United Nations tightened sanctions on North Korea in March. New measures include a somewhat leaky ban on exports of coal and other minerals, one of North Korea’s main sources of foreign exchange. The U.S. added further sanctions of its own in July, specifically naming and citing Mr Kim. Yet, none of these measures have appeared to change Mr Kim’s behaviour for the better, and is quite likely to have infuriated him still further.

Exhorting China to put more pressure on North Korea will be the main strategy of the triumvirate (America, Japan and South Korea), since the North Korean regime relies on China for its economic survival.

The Chinese government has become increasingly frustrated by Mr Kim – it voted in favour of the UN sanctions this year, though it has not always applied them rigorously. It is concerned that the collapse of Mr Kim’s regime might bring American troops to its frontier on the South Korean peninsula, along with a flood of refugees. China’s relations with America and its allies in Asia are also not at their best at the moment. It is disgruntled over the agreement between South Korea and America to host THAAD, a missile defence system, and has been unsettled over issues in the South and East China Seas. The West’s best hope of restraining North Korea is not only proving to be a slender one but hugely problematic.

Britain, Climate Change, Energy, Government, Science

The UK’s energy dilemma


Intro: Britain is facing a pressing problem in coping with its complex energy demands

DELAYS to the construction of the controversial Hinkley point raises a number of important questions on how the UK might meet its future energy needs. Pressingly, as the UK searches for options in how its future baseload power can be met without heavily polluting the environment, a solution in bridging the energy-gap will soon be required.

Britain is facing a pressing problem in coping with its complex energy demands. It needs to provide extra energy to meet rising demands for power in the future but at a reasonable cost – while also reducing carbon emissions by considerable levels in order to meet its climate change commitments. This will not be an easy combination to achieve. Hinkley Point, however, was considered by many experts to be a crucial determinant in reaching these goals.

Equipped with a massive 3.2bn watt capacity, Hinkley Point C has capacity in providing 7% of the nation’s electricity if completed. That would help to generate the power that would keep the nation working while renewable energy sources, mainly wind turbines, would provide the rest of the electricity needed by domestic households and firms. As one spokesperson from the Grantham Research Institute said: ‘You have to have some baseload source to provide power when it is utterly calm and renewables are not providing energy . . . Gas and coal plants – which can also supply that baseload – will no longer be viable in the future because of their carbon emissions (which cause global warming). You are then left with nuclear.’

This dilemma exposes a major drawback that affects renewable energy. Wind and solar plants are intermittent power supplies. They often provide power when it is not needed but fail to provide it when it is most needed. Until a method of storing energy on an industrial scale is developed, this drawback will continue to impede its deployment across the country. Research into ways to store energy on a large scale is now being pursued across the globe but may take decades. Other game-changing energy projects are also being worked on.

One of the most important of these future developments is fusion power (see annotation below).  This aims to recreate the process that provides the Sun with its energy. Nuclei of hydrogen atoms are fused together at colossal temperature inside huge reactors to create helium nuclei. The process also creates vast amounts of excess energy but with little pollution or radioactive contamination. Nonetheless, current devices – in particular, the international ITER fusion reactor, being built as a collaborative programme in France with British involvement – are years behind schedule and vastly over budget. Few experts believe fusion will get us out of our current energy problem.

Alternatively, we could continue to utilise carbon capture and storage (CCS), a process which uses fossil fuel plants which takes their carbon dioxide emissions, liquefies them and pumps them underground into porous rocks. Furthermore, Britain has huge, empty North Sea oil fields which many geologists and energy experts believe would be ideal for storing liquefied carbon dioxide. Several test projects were set up in recent years, with the government pledging to provide funding of up to £1bn. In November last year, though, it abruptly cancelled the programme, halting work on all major CCS projects. As devastating that announcement was to those engaged in development work, such technology is critical for the UK’s economic, industrial and climate policies.



A fusion reaction involves the combining (or fusing) of two or more atoms to make one single atom. Fusion reactions are the ones which power our stars. In a simple fusion reaction shown, two isotopes of hydrogen combine to form one atom of helium.

Britain, Government, Politics, Sport

Team GB offers a golden lesson in how to beat the world


RIo Medal Table

Rio Medal Table

OVER THE PAST FORTNIGHT in Rio at the Olympic Games, Team GB exceeded the highest hopes, spreading euphoria and joy even among many who thought they were uninterested in sport.

Across a huge range and spectrum of disciplines, Team GB athletes have shown what this country can achieve at its best. It amassed a hoard of gold medals to outstrip even China with its population of 1.4billion.

Yet, the performances we have all witnessed have given us much more than an excuse to fly the flag or by raising a toast to Britain’s highest ranking in the medal tables for 108 years. Team GB has offered a daily lesson in human virtue, gruelling effort and its rewards.

See: A collection of moments from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games – Olympic Rio Gallery 2016

Interviewed after their victories, these supremely dedicated athletes, for the most part modest and unassuming, have attributed their success above all to sacrifice, determination and an unrelenting work ethic.

In the words of the immortal Mo Farah, winner of four Olympic golds: ‘If you dream of something, have ambitions and are willing to work hard, then you can get your dreams.’

These are true role models for Britain’s young, too often captivated by dreams of the effortless, vacuous celebrity of the tawdry stars of reality TV.

If our athletes’ performance spurs them to emulate the commitment of the likes of Andy Murray on the tennis court, cyclist Laura Trott, boxer Nicola Adams, taekwondo’s Jade Jones and gymnast Max Whitlock, what rich rewards this country would reap. The showjumping gold won by 58-year-old Nick Skelton and older Britons, too, also offers a lesson about the importance of refusing to give up.


BUT isn’t there also a lesson for politicians in our athletes’ phenomenal success?

As one victor after another has been quick to acknowledge, Team GB owes at least a measure of its triumph to the ruthlessly effective way in which the British Olympic Association and UK Sport channelled state aid and lottery money into the disciplines most likely to yield the richest crop of medals.

Wasn’t the Olympic investment strategy – focusing on fields in which Britain is strong, the competition vulnerable and the rewards enormous – a perfect model for government priorities after Brexit?

The fact is that in commerce, as in sport, Britain has huge strengths – as even the most ardent of Remainers are beginning to admit.

Indeed, US banking giant JP Morgan has become the latest promoter of Project Fear to reverse its prediction that the FTSE-100 would plummet after a Brexit vote. Now it tells investors that British shares are the safest bet in Europe.

Certainly, there are tough negotiations ahead – and the sooner they start, the sooner the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy will lift.

But with the right focus, there is every hope that wonderful opportunities will open up when we’re free from Brussels interference to develop industries and services of our own choosing.

In Rio, our athletes have shown what huge rewards can be achieved through self-belief and hard work, backed up by clear-thinking administrators with their minds fixed on results.

The ministers in charge of negotiating Brexit should learn from them. Instead of fighting turf wars among themselves, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis need a clear strategy to help us take on the world and win.

Team GB has shown how it can be done. Now the politicians in Britain must get on with it.

China, Foreign Affairs, Philippines, United Nations

China refuses to accept findings impinging on its sovereignty


Intro: The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has no jurisdiction on territorial sovereignty, which, in China’s view, makes the court’s award illegal and invalid

China South China Sea China Air Patrol

Two Chinese Su-30 fighter jets take off from an unspecified location to fly a patrol over the South China Sea.

On July 19, an article appeared on this site entitled, China: An international ruling over the South China Sea.

Unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, the Arbitral Tribunal for the South China Sea announced its decree in July. China immediately responded by rejecting the court’s findings and the narrative here relates to why China has done so.

Firstly, Beijing insists that the Tribunal abused its authority by meddling in territorial issues. The disputes between China and the Philippines are about territorial sovereignty. China has held historical rights over the islands for some 2000 years without any disputes until the 1970s when the Philippines started to occupy China’s islands following reported discoveries of oil and natural gas in the region. According to its own rules, The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has no jurisdiction on territorial sovereignty, which, in China’s view, makes the court’s award illegal and invalid.

Secondly, China decries that the ruling violated China’s legal rights. Beijing says that in light of international law, any country has rights to not accept dispute settlement imposed upon it on issues concerning territorial disputes. What is more, in 2006 China made a declaration excluding from arbitration matters concerning maritime delimitation. Over 30 countries (including the UK) have also made similar moves. In doing so, the award violated China’s rights.

Thirdly, Beijing claims that the court’s decree has harmed the international practice of peaceful settlement of disputes. China says it adheres to a peaceful foreign policy, one which seeks to settle disputes through negotiation and consultations. China has signed boundary treaties with 12 of its 14 land neighbours through bilateral negotiations in a spirit of equality and understanding. China has also been at pains to point out that it has reached consensus with the Philippines on settling their regional disputes through negotiation. However, the Tribunal turned a blind eye to it, damaging China’s goodwill.

And fourthly, China argues that the arbitration has intensified tensions in the region. Despite the disputes, the region remains peaceful with freedom of navigation unaffected. Beijing insists that the arbitration’s ruling will now accelerate tensions with countries outside the region and will be using it as an excuse for further interference and muddying the waters for their own interests.

European Union, NATO, Russia, Turkey, United States

Russia and Turkey’s rapprochement


Intro: For Russia, this is an opportunity to drive a hard wedge between Turkey, NATO and the EU

The unfolding diplomatic rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is likely to become a significant challenge for the European Union and NATO. For centuries now, these two countries have remained implacably opposed to each other. Efforts just a decade ago to forge a strategic partnership were curtailed by the civil war that has been raging in Syria. With Moscow clearly propping up Bashar al-Assad, Ankara either stayed out or implicitly supported his enemies. In more recent times, relations hit another low point last November when Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber near the Syrian border for violating Turkey’s airspace. Russia imposed sanctions and the damage to relations between the two countries seemed irreparable.

But even before events last month in which an attempted military coup failed, President Erdogan had decided he could no longer afford a cold war of attrition and stalemate with Moscow and began making overtures with the Kremlin. The putsch appears to have expedited matters: yesterday Mr Erdogan met with Vladimir Putin to agree the normalising of relations. This will send shock waves through the EU at a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

For Russia, this is an opportunity to drive a hard wedge between Turkey, NATO and the EU and will help to abate Russian anger over the jet incident. President Putin must recognise in Mr Erdogan a leader cut from the same cloth – a democratically elected nationalist who has been behaving more like a despot.

Mr Erdogan’s ruthless purge of opponents after the thwarted coup has alarmed EU leaders who had encouraged Ankara to believe it could join the European Union at some future point and had pledged to introduce visa-free access for Turkish travellers to the Schengen area. No date, however, has ever been set or given for either and several EU countries have made it abundantly clear they would veto Turkey’s accession citing its human rights record, loss of press freedom and other economic shortcomings. Angela Merkel of Germany has been desperate to keep both options open in order to stop Turkey reneging on a deal to keep Syrian refugees from crossing into Europe.

But Mr Erdogan seems to have been cooling towards Europe, none of whose leaders have been to Ankara since the failed coup. Turkey’s leader is seeking alliances elsewhere. Improving relations between Russia and Turkey will have significant implications both for policy on Syria and for NATO itself. The US nuclear base at Incirlik is a key part of western defences, but, if Turkey were to leave its loss would be a serious blow to the organisation.

These developments will be concerning for European leaders. But for the Russian president this is a chance to cause fresh consternation in the capitals of Europe and in Washington. Mr Putin seems certain to grab a gift horse that couldn’t have come at a better time for his own interests.