A Tale of Two Treaties. Two treaties that have defined the post-Cold War world have come under significant pressure. U.S. President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he would terminate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 and commonly known as the INF. (According to Russian media, the Kremlin is still waiting on an official explanation from the U.S. national security adviser, who is currently in Moscow.) Unlike NAFTA or the Iran nuclear deal, the INF is a treaty and, as such, it can be terminated only by Congress, not by the president alone. The Trump administration’s announcement, however, suggests that the U.S. legislative branch is continuing its trend of ceding authority to the executive branch.
The stakes of the withdrawal would go far beyond U.S institutional degradation. The U.S. claims Russia began violating the INF Treaty in 2014, while Russia has maintained since at least 2017 that U.S. anti-ballistic missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe are a breach of the agreement. Not to mention that in April 2017, the then-head of U.S. Pacific Command told Congress the U.S. should renegotiate the treaty because the existing agreement limited its ability “to counter Chinese and other countries’ cruise missiles and land-based missiles.” The INF was never a guarantor of world peace. It heralded the imminent end of the Cold War and was a trust-building measure between the U.S. and Soviet Union, enemies that didn’t trust each other at all. The announcement of the treaty’s termination – regardless of the purported cause or claim behind it – is just the latest in a series of signals that whatever trust existed before is gone. It is the clearest sign yet from the U.S. to Russia and China that Washington now views them both as strategic competitors and intends to conduct itself accordingly.
Then there’s the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, which isn’t in danger of imminent collapse but did buckle over the weekend. Jordanian King Abdullah II informed Israel on Sunday that his country would cancel two portions of the peace treaty, in effect failing to renew the 25-year leases it extended to Israel as part of the 1994 agreement on two territories. For decades before the treaty restored control of the territories – known in Hebrew as Naharayim and Zofar and in Arabic as al-Baqura and al-Ghamr – to Jordan, Israel held de facto control of them. Jordan then agreed to lease the land to the Israeli farmers who had long worked it as a show of good faith. Again, the issue here was trust. Israel and Jordan had been mortal enemies since 1948, and the exchange and leasing of the territories was among several gestures meant to build goodwill and trust between them.
That trust, it would seem, has been damaged – it’s still unclear how seriously. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed Abdullah’s announcement, saying that Israel would open negotiations with Jordan over the territories. But considering the domestic pressure that pushed the king to take this step in the first place, including protests on Friday, Jordan probably doesn’t see much room for bargaining, much less reversing the move. (Israeli press, meanwhile, has noted that in March 2017, Jordan released a former soldier after he served 20 years of what was supposed to be a life sentence for killing seven schoolgirls on a field trip to one of the territories in 1997.) Along with the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the Israel-Jordan pact is part of the bedrock of the Middle East power structure – a structure now facing its gravest threat since Egypt elected a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to its presidency.
Several reports from Poland, Eastern Europe’s emerging middleweight, caught our eye this morning. First were the results of local council elections, which one columnist described in the daily Rzeczpospolita as a “Pyrrhic victory” for the ruling Law and Justice party, or PiS. The PiS came out on top, but with only a 32.3 percent plurality of the votes – 5 percent less than the margin by which it came to power in the 2015 national elections. In addition, voters in the capital, Warsaw, elected a pro-EU candidate as the city’s mayor by 54.1 percent. The elections reveal just how much domestic issues have divided Poland. At the same time, one of the ruling party’s signature programs – lowering the retirement age for members of Poland’s Supreme Court – suffered a blow when several justices returned to work Monday after the European Court of Justice ordered their temporary reinstatement last Friday. The move, though largely symbolic, gets at one of the major issues dividing the Polish electorate: the nature of Poland’s relationship to the European Union.
As if that weren’t enough, Rzeczpospolita also reported that a combination of factors such as higher energy prices, labor shortages and rising salaries is leading a growing number of Polish companies to insolvency. Radio Poland reported that other countries in Eastern Europe were facing similar headwinds, but it was not specific about how many or which. It’s no secret that we’re bullish in the long term when it comes to Eastern European economies. Still, this warning sign may have implications beyond just Poland. And to top it off, Poland’s president arrived in Germany earlier on Monday to discuss key bilateral issues between the two countries, reportedly including the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and war reparations.
China’s reassurances about its economy seem to be doing the trick. Last week, the Chinese stock market took its largest nosedive since 2016, setting off concerns that China’s economy was straining under the weight of the trade war with the U.S. and President Xi Jinping’s restructuring plans. That the central and local governments have taken over at least 58 Chinese companies in October seemed to amplify the crisis of confidence. Beijing bought itself a little time with an offensive it launched Friday to allay international fears. China’s vice premier called for confidence in China’s economic outlook and claimed that the trade war’s primary effect was psychological. And over the weekend, Beijing busted out its biggest gun: Xi himself. The president wrote a letter to private entrepreneurs Sunday to reassure them that “supporting the development of private enterprises” was a Chinese Communist Party priority that could not “be shaken in the slightest.” One can’t help but notice the irony of a communist leader promising to steadfastly defend private enterprise, but all irony aside, China’s stock market has rebounded over the past two days, meaning the strategy is working, at least for now. How long it will keep working – and how steadfastly the Communist Party defends the pitfalls of private enterprise – remains to be seen.
And there’s another controversy in Turkey. On Oct. 18, Turkey’s Council of State decided to reinstate a student oath that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, eliminated in 2013. The oath is secular and nationalist in origin; it ends with the line, “How happy is the one who says ‘I am a Turk.’” The AKP, a more conservative party rooted in Islamic tradition, did not care for the oath and wanted to get rid of it. (One might credibly compare the controversy to the debate in the United States over whether students should have to aver their allegiance to “one nation under God” every morning.) The issue reflects a wider conversation underway in Turkey over the relationship between politics and religion. That was, in a sense, what the attempted military coup in 2016 was about, and it’s been a defining struggle in Turkey’s political evolution since the 1980s. In this context, even seemingly trivial arguments over whether students should recite a nationalist oath offer insight into the kind of future Turkey will define for itself.
- The Russian ambassador to Belarus said on Belarusian TV that Russia would consider a military attack on the country an attack on Russia itself.
- Italy accused France of dropping migrants in its territory without notifying Italian authorities and is sending police to patrol its border with France as a result.
- The leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan held informal talks in the Kazakh city of Saryagash.
- Russia announced new sanctions against Ukraine in response to Ukrainian sanctions on Russia.
- Serbia’s president criticized the U.S. in remarks about the potential withdrawal of the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.
- Italy responded to the European Commission’s concerns over its budget; the commission will decide Tuesday whether to reject the draft budget.
- Government sources in Japan told Kyodo News that the Japanese and Chinese navies would resume mutual visits for the first time since 2011.
- On Saturday, the Greek foreign minister told the prime minister that Greece was ready to extend its territorial waters from 6 to 12 nautical miles (from roughly 11 kilometers to about 22 kilometers) – a move that Turkey would not take kindly.