PETER YOUNG: No lessening of last year’s troubled times

In this photo released by Sputnik news agency on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on February 6, 2024. 
Photo: Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo/AP

In this photo released by Sputnik news agency on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on February 6, 2024. Photo: Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo/AP


Peter Young

HAVING written this weekly column continuously for nearly five years, apart from the odd short holiday break, it has been hugely disappointing personally to have been prevented through ill health from producing it since the beginning of January. But it feels good to be back in harness today even though there are two subjects rather than the usual three.

My last column on January 2 briefly reviewed 2023 as a tumultuous year of unprecedented turmoil in modern world history. Now, at the start of another year there is no sign of any let-up in the existing crises. As the perception grows that the world may be close to nuclear Armageddon with global conflict edging closer than ever, in January the new British foreign secretary and former prime minister, Lord Cameron, warned that “it is hard to think of a time when there has been so much danger, insecurity and instability in the world”.

As the danger grows of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, North Korea and China – added to the hostility shown by Iran and its support for terrorist groups -- he was referring primarily, of course, to the ongoing Ukraine and Israel-Gaza wars.

The latter has been exacerbated more recently by acts of terrorism committed by the Iran-backed militant groups Hezbollah to the north of Israel and the Houtis in Yemen, who have been firing rockets at international vessels in the key shipping lane of the Red Sea. Such interference with international navigation is unacceptable in the rules-based order under which the world operates and Western countries were bound to react in self-defence.

Thus, the US and UK have launched air strikes on the Houtis’ bases on the Yemeni mainland. The US has also carried out air strikes on targets in some Middle Eastern countries, though not on Iranian territory, in response to the killing of three of its own military personnel. Meanwhile, other major global issues like climate change continue to cause huge controversy; and there also remains the heartrending issue of the Israeli hostages still held by Hamas.

For me, one advantage of being confined for a prolonged period to a sick-bed is to have the time and opportunity for a detailed study of international events and to read a wide range of varied opinion in the foreign media. So, despite the plethora of information available about the latest developments in relation to the various global crises, some further analysis might be interesting.

As the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches, the war drags on with no end in sight. Last week, in his first interview with Western media since the invasion, Putin was given air time by Tucker Carlson, the controversial American right-wing talk show host. Most observers consider that Carlson confined himself to lobbing ‘soft balls’ at the Russian leader who used the interview to portray his country as a victim of Western betrayal and NATO aggression, justifying the invasion of Ukraine – his so-called special military operation -- as the need to protect Russian speakers in the east while he continues his relentless missile attacks on civilian and other targets in the rest of the country.

He also delivered a history lesson of doubtful accuracy about the origins and development of Russia as a nation and the claimed non-existence of Ukraine as a separate country. This interview has come at an awkward time for Ukraine as some US legislators are going cold on further military assistance, though the EU, by contrast, has just approved a new aid package.

Unlike Ukraine, the Israel-Gaza war only started after the horrific murderous rampage by Hamas terrorists on Israeli soil on October 7 that resulted in the death of 1,300 Israelis. This has become known as the nation’s ‘darkest day’. Predictably, Israel’s fierce reaction to hunt down and completely destroy Hamas has precipitated unrest, turmoil and instability in the Middle East because of worldwide concern about the so-called collateral damage of comprehensive Israeli military action in the Gaza strip that has involved heavy loss of life and wholesale destruction of civilian infrastructure, and a consequent humanitarian disaster and possible famine.

After the terrible events of October 7, the US and other Western nations were quick to state that Israel had a right to defend itself but they warned that military action should be targeted at Hamas and not involve civilians. Other countries also acknowledged the importance of this right to self-defence. But, in seeking remorselessly to destroy Hamas once and for all, Israel’s pursuit of its heavy-handed policy of destruction of the Gaza strip has, according to figures produced by Hamas, resulted in more than 28,000 deaths, mostly from air strikes on civilian buildings. In criticizing Israel, there has been revulsion around the world at this terrible loss of life.

Because of space constraints, analysis of current views in the international media about the longer term future of Israel and the Palestinians will have to await another day. But the public rejection by Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of a two-state solution is, in the minds of many, a severe setback.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing over the weekend, it has become clear that observers are currently obsessed with the danger of Israel mounting an attack on the city of Rafah in the south of the Gaza strip which has been an aid distribution centre and where more than a million Palestinians have found shelter after fleeing the fighting in the north. According to the latest reports, an aerial bombardment has already started overnight causing 67 Palestinian deaths already. The US has said that a ground invasion in this refugee-packed area would be disastrous and has warned Israel not to attack without a ‘credible’ plan to protect civilians.


President Donald Trump meets with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during the NATO summit at The Grove, Wednesday, Decemner 4, 2019, in Watford, England. Former US president Donald Trump says he once warned that he would allow Russia to do whatever it wants to NATO member nations that are “delinquent” in devoting 2% of their gross domestic product to defense. Trump’s comment on Saturday represented the latest instance in which the former president and Republican front-runner seemed to side with an authoritarian state over America’s democratic allies. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Trump’s controversial and unwise utterances

Former US president Donald Trump is well known for his extreme views on a variety of issues. When he won the 2016 election, many people thought that in office such views would be toned down to enable him to fulfill his role as leader of the whole country. Many also now think that, in order to secure election again after having lost to Joe Biden in 2020, he would likewise be careful to avoid unnecessary publicity about his extreme positions on certain key, controversial subjects in order to avoid alienating swing voters in particular. On the other hand, he needs to confirm to his supporters where he stands on important issues.

Against this background, it has been surprising, if not shocking, to learn that last Saturday at a rally in South Carolina Trump said that as US president he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to a member country of NATO that did not meet its defence spending guidelines of a minimum of 2 per cent of GDP. According to NATO’s own figures for 2023, nineteen of its member states are spending below this target.

The 31-member NATO, with Finland the latest country to join and Sweden not far behind, was established in 1949 and has been the linchpin of Western security ever since. In response to Trump’s remarks, the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has already said that the former president’s suggestion that the US will not protect NATO allies failing to spend enough on defence “undermines all of our security”, including that of the US. Members of NATO commit to defend any nation in the bloc that gets attacked – Article 5 of its constitution stipulates that an attack on any member state calls for collective defence by all.

Jens Stoltenberg went on to emphasize that the alliance remains “ready and able” to defend its members and any attack “will be met with a united and forceful response”. He added that he thought that, regardless of who wins November’s US presidential election, the US would remain a strong and committed NATO ally.

Trump’s weekend remarks have already been widely criticised as “appalling, unhinged and dangerous”, since they could have an effect on Putin’s future policy towards countries in the region of Ukraine that are under potential threat from Russia.

It remains to be seen how all this pans out. But it should be remembered that, while Trump likes to grab the headlines, many of his supporters - 74 million of whom voted for him in the 2020 election – will favour his stance on European nations meeting their defence spending quotas which goes back to 2018 when he was president.


birdiestrachan 5 months ago

It is good that you are feeling better , it will be a good start when the lives of innocent Palestine’s are as import as the lives of innocent isarelies

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