Germany's leadership in the EU is being tested by the Russo-Ukraine War
Japan and Lithuania will strengthen ties, Imran Khan marches on Islamabad, and potential military intervention in Haiti
Hi there Intriguer. Happy Halloween! In late breaking news, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be Brazil's new president after he defeated Jair Bolsonaro 50.9% - 49.1%. That’s the narrowest margin of victory since Brazil’s democracy was restored in 1988, but it’s also the first time an incumbent President has been booted after one term in office. We’ll take a look at the geopolitical consequences of the election later this week.
Today’s briefing is a ~5.4 min read:
🇩🇪 German EU leadership and the challenges posed by the Russo-Ukraine War.
➕ Plus: Japan and Lithuania strengthen ties, Imran Khan marches on Islamabad, and potential military intervention in Haiti.
P.S. Verschlimmbesserung is an excellent German word that means “the moment when your attempt to improve something only ends up making it worse”.
📰 GLOBAL HEADLINES
🤿 DEEP DIVE
Is Germany still the EU’s unofficial leader?
Germany’s policies to ‘change’ Russia through trade have weakened European security, leaving Berlin with a bruised reputation.
This winter will tell us a lot about whether Germany can retain its post as the unofficial EU leader, or whether France will seize the opportunity to displace its northern neighbour.
This clip is courtesy of Saturday Night Live, so kindly address your angry letters there. Source: Giphy.
The end of the end of history
During the Angela Merkel era of political stability and economic prosperity (2005-2021), Germany was widely regarded as the unofficial leader of the EU.
But now, the Russo-Ukraine War and the subsequent reorganisation of global geopolitics have shifted many countries’ views of Germany’s role in Europe.
Until the start of the war, the Germans pursued a ‘change through trade’ (Wandel durch Handel) foreign policy. The hope was that mutually-beneficial trade relationships would convince authoritarian regimes to gradually liberalise.
But according to analyst Judy Dempsey “These policies were [...] naively based on the idea that closer trade and economic ties would lead to stability, even trust.”
While in retrospect it’s easy to conclude that Germany’s policies were ‘naive’, it was far from the only country to make this mistake.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February has seriously damaged Germany’s image:
1. 🤕 Hurt its political credibility
Germany didn’t see the war coming. In a highly embarrassing intelligence failure, Germany’s spy chief Bruno Kahl was in Kyiv on the day of the invasion and had to be evacuated by special forces.
To be fair, Germany wasn’t alone - the French and even Ukrainian intelligence services failed to predict the invasion, despite countless warnings from their US and UK counterparts.
But even more damagingly for Germany’s reputation, senior figures within the German political establishment are still reluctant to cut ties with Russia.
For example, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has met Putin several times since February and has refused to apologise for their friendship.
2. 🤑 Prioritising itself over the collective
While Germany is the fourth-largest donor of military aid to Ukraine, Berlin has been criticised for being reluctant to send its best weapons and equipment.
Military contributions aren’t the only issue: According to a report in the Washington Post, Germany’s European partners have also expressed frustrations over its energy crisis relief fund:
3. 📉 Decreased economic influence
Germany is the biggest economy in Europe (by far). Still, analysts wonder whether the Russo-Ukraine War’s negative economic shocks will decrease Germany's influence within the EU.
Those concerns look overstated for now: Germany defied expectations of an economic contraction by posting 0.3% GDP growth in Q3, but inflation has surged to a record 10.4%.
This winter will tell us much about Germany’s ability to lead Europe in the future.
If Germany continues to be seen as insufficiently anti-Russia, lagging in its support for Ukraine, and putting itself ahead of Europe, then President Emmanuel Macron will be only too happy to present France as Europe’s next leader.
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🔦 REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT
North & Central Asia
China reconfirmed its support for Russia in a call between Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and Sergei Lavrov last week.
Wang pledged China would work “to further establish Russia’s status as a major power on the international stage”.
China and Russia are being careful not to air their dirty laundry - whatever private concerns China has on Russia’s war in Ukraine, it is continuing to stand by Moscow on the world stage.
The leaders of Japan and Lithuania have decided to take their countries’ relationship to the next level, starting with a new dialogue on security cooperation.
Lithuania is looking to deepen its ties with like-minded Asian countries after China pressured it to close the Taiwanese diplomatic post in Vilnius.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte remarked: “Recent geopolitical challenges [...] show a need for like-minded nations to cooperate closer together”.
Kazakhstan hosted the first-ever EU-Central Asia Summit last Thursday.
European Council President Charles Michel sat down with the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan to discuss strengthening their diplomatic and economic relationships.
The EU is keen to maintain friendly ties with Central Asian countries to secure eastward trade routes that do not cross into Russian territory.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has set off on a 260km march intended to drum up support for his demand for early elections.
Earlier this month, a court barred Khan from holding public office again in the future, a decision his supporters believe is politically motivated.
Khan enjoys widespread support in Pakistan, and his march is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of protesters by the time it reaches Islamabad next week.
🇰🇷 South Korea
South Korea, Japan, and the US have issued a joint statement warning North Korea of an “unparalleled” response if Pyongyang tests a nuclear bomb.
North Korea hasn’t conducted nuclear tests since 2017, but the International Atomic Energy Agency believes Pyongyang may resume its nuclear activity soon.
Japan and South Korea do not have a nuclear arsenal of their own but are protected under the US nuclear umbrella.
🗞 IN OTHER NEWS...
Haiti under siege
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has called for a military intervention to stabilise the country’s security outlook. Credits: Joseph Odelyn/AP
The news: Much of Haiti’s capital, Port Au-Prince, has fallen under the de facto control of a criminal gang network known as the ‘G9’.
The group seized the Varreux Terminal in September, home to 70% of Haiti’s fuel.
Food, water, and other supplies can’t be transported, while homes and hospitals (many of which rely on diesel fuel) are without power.
Haiti has experienced a wave of humanitarian challenges over the past decade, beginning with a devastating earthquake in 2010, and spiralling further after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated last year.
No easy answers: Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry has called for an armed foreign intervention, and world leaders are deciding how they should respond.
The UN Security Council has sanctioned top gang leaders, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres has endorsed a military intervention plan.
What’s the hold-up? Not everyone in Haiti is eager to welcome back foreign armies, and for good reason:
Long-term fixes are needed: During each intervention, writes Haitian journalist Garry Pierre-Pierre, foreign powers have failed to confront the country’s governance problems:
🤏 STORIES WE ALMOST COVERED
Last week we asked you to vote on a story you wished we’d have covered, and here are your (somewhat) surprising answers!
Which story do you wish we'd covered?
🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️ 🪖 Putin's martial law (18.7%)
🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️ 💨 NZ's fart tax (22.8%)
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🛢 US vs Saudi Arabia (27.52%)
🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 📦 EU-Latam trade (16.7%)
🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 📉 China's delay (14.09%)
So, without further ado...
🛢 US vs Saudi Arabia
The tl;dr: The US Democratic Party has an axe to grind with Saudi Arabia after OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) agreed to cut oil production.
OPEC defended its decision as a purely economic move to boost falling oil prices.
The accusation: Some Democrats believe the production cut was a strategic decision to undermine President Biden and his party only a month before the US midterm elections.
There’s no love lost between President Biden and Saudi Leader Mohammed bin Salman: During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for its human rights abuses, the kind of comment that rulers-for-life don’t forget in a hurry.
The intrigue: Interestingly, the US doesn’t rely on Saudi Arabia for its domestic oil needs. Only 5% of total US oil imports come from Riyadh.
But the US needs Saudi Arabia as OPEC’s de facto leader to help keep oil prices low, particularly in an election year.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia doesn’t need the US to buy its oil, but it does need US weapons to keep its military well-stocked.
In normal times, those mutual interests would mean a deal would be found, but these are anything but normal times.