US to leave nu­clear arms pact. Democrats sent pipe bombs. Er­doğan points to MBS.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents | The Week - Hamish McDon­ald

Last Sun­day, Don­ald Trump an­nounced that the United States would with­draw from the In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nu­clear Forces (INF) treaty, signed by Ron­ald Rea­gan and Mikhail Gor­bachev in 1987.

The agree­ment low­ered ten­sions in the fi­nal throes of the Cold War, ban­ning ground-based mis­siles with a range be­tween 500 and 5500 kilo­me­tres. By 1991, about 800 US mis­siles and about 1800 Soviet mis­siles were with­drawn and scrapped. It was, as Rea­gan said, the first time an en­tire cat­e­gory of nu­clear weapons was not just re­duced but elim­i­nated.

It seems Trump’s dec­la­ra­tion is not just a thought bub­ble. His na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, John Bolton, went to Moscow mid­week to tell Vladimir Putin. One rea­son given was that Rus­sia has been cheat­ing, by test­ing and de­ploy­ing a new ground-launched cruise mis­sile called the Iskan­der or SSC-8, a ver­sion of the sea-launched Kal­ibr that its navy has oc­ca­sion­ally fired into Syria. The other was that the INF didn’t in­clude China. “There’s a new strate­gic re­al­ity out there,” said Bolton. “This was a Cold War bi­lat­eral bal­lis­tic mis­sile-re­lated treaty, in a mul­ti­po­lar bal­lis­tic mis­sile world.”

Bolton has a track record of tear­ing down nu­clear arms agree­ments, hav­ing per­suaded Ge­orge W. Bush to with­draw from the anti-bal­lis­tic mis­sile treaty in 2001. Trump de­lights in pulling out of in­ter­na­tional pacts, and this may well be a pre­lude to let­ting the ex­ist­ing strate­gic arms lim­i­ta­tion agree­ment, known as

New START, ex­pire in 2021.

If the world em­barks on a ru­inously costly new nu­clear arms race, much of it could hap­pen in the Asian re­gion. Some US de­fence chiefs have been fret­ting about China’s build-up of medium-range mis­siles that could threaten US bases and al­lies. They ad­vo­cate put­ting match­ing US mis­siles on mo­bile ground launch­ers around the re­gion to take them out or threaten pro­por­tion­ate re­tal­i­a­tion.

But there is no ev­i­dence China has put nu­clear war­heads on these mis­siles, and other US mil­i­tary voices ar­gue the US al­ready has a coun­ter­force in sea and air­launched cruise mis­siles. With­draw­ing from these agree­ments also re­moves the in­spec­tion regime that al­lows each coun­try to ver­ify what the other has.

So far, the Rus­sian mil­i­tary has in­ducted only one reg­i­ment with 40 to 50 of the new Iskan­der mis­siles, and it’s not known if these have nu­clear war­heads or where they have been de­ployed. Rus­sia has its wor­ries about China, too. Trump and Putin seem likely to meet in Paris at the cen­te­nary of the World War I armistice on Novem­ber 11 and will dis­cuss this fur­ther. Gor­bachev, now 87, said Trump’s de­ci­sion was “not the work of a great mind”.

Democrats tar­geted

With the US con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions clos­ing in on Novem­ber 6, pipe bombs ar­rived by post and hand­de­liv­ery to sev­eral of the far-right’s hate fig­ures in­clud­ing Barack Obama, Hil­lary Clin­ton, for­mer at­tor­ney­gen­eral Eric Holder, New York gover­nor An­drew Cuomo, for­mer CIA chief and CNN reg­u­lar John Bren­nan, lib­eral phi­lan­thropist Ge­orge Soros and two Demo­crat con­gress­women. All were safely in­ter­cepted.

It added to an al­ready toxic at­mos­phere as Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions in the states, which run the elec­toral process even for fed­eral vot­ing, con­tin­ued ef­forts to dis­en­fran­chise likely Demo­crat vot­ers such as African Amer­i­cans. Polling shows the Democrats have a chance of re­gain­ing con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but the Repub­li­cans look like keep­ing a tight Se­nate ma­jor­ity.

Trump has been work­ing hard to fire up his base to turn out and vote, partly by try­ing to cre­ate a Tampa mo­ment by cas­ti­gat­ing the car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­can asy­lum seek­ers march­ing through Mex­ico to­wards the US border as a Tro­jan Horse for ter­ror­ists. He had to con­demn the pipe bombs, but added: “The me­dia also has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to set a civil tone and stop the end­less hos­til­ity and con­stant neg­a­tive and of­ten­times false at­tacks.”

Turkey points fin­ger

Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan ap­plied some heat to Saudi Ara­bian crown prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man on Tues­day in a speech to the Turk­ish par­lia­ment about the ‘‘pre­med­i­tated mur­der’’ of the Saudi jour­nal­ist and gov­ern­ment critic Ja­mal Khashoggi in the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul on Oc­to­ber 2.

“It is clear that this sav­age mur­der did not hap­pen in­stantly but was planned,” said Er­doğan, of­fer­ing a time line that in­cluded the new de­tail of con­sulate of­fi­cials ap­par­ently scop­ing a coun­try area be­fore­hand for places to dis­pose of Khashoggi’s body.

The Turk­ish pres­i­dent dis­missed the Saudis’ story that Khashoggi died ac­ci­den­tally in a scuf­fle with a Saudi team try­ing to ques­tion him, with­out the crown prince hav­ing any knowl­edge of their mis­sion. “Put­ting all the bur­den on a few se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence mem­bers would sat­isfy nei­ther us nor the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” said Er­doğan. “We could be sat­is­fied only if ev­ery­one, from the one giv­ing the or­der to the one who car­ried it out, are called to ac­count.”

Sal­man seared by ac­cu­sa­tions

While Er­doğan has been mak­ing the most of Khashoggi’s death to counter his own record as one of the worst jail­ers of jour­nal­ists – and per­haps to squeeze funds out of the Saudis – those who pinned hopes on the Saudi crown prince, known as MBS, are on the back foot.

Trump said the killing was “a very bad orig­i­nal con­cept” car­ried out poorly, fol­lowed by “one of the worst cover-ups ever”. He said the crown prince “ran ev­ery­thing” in Saudi Ara­bia and car­ried ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Writ­ing in Haaretz, for­mer US am­bas­sador to Is­rael Daniel Shapiro said the killing has un­der­mined US and Is­raeli ef­forts to build a con­sen­sus against Iran.

In a staged me­dia event, King Sal­man and MBS of­fered con­do­lences to Khashoggi’s son Salah, who ac­cepted their hand­shakes with a wooden ex­pres­sion. He has been barred from leav­ing the king­dom since last year. Later, MBS took the stage at his Davos in the Desert in­vest­ment con­fer­ence in Riyadh to as­sure the au­di­ence, di­min­ished by boy­cotts (in­clud­ing Aus­tralia), of co­op­er­a­tion with Turkey to bring all re­spon­si­ble for “this heinous crime” to jus­tice.

On Thurs­day, the story changed again when Saudi state me­dia re­ported that a joint Saudi–Turk­ish task­force had found ev­i­dence Khashoggi’s mur­der was “pre­med­i­tated”.

Joko treads gen­tly with Saudis

Of se­cu­rity in­ter­est to Aus­tralians will be the ef­fect on Saudi in­flu­ence in In­done­sia, where the visit by

King Sal­man and his vast ret­inue in March last year saw Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo’s gov­ern­ment sign off on a big ex­pan­sion of Saudi-funded teach­ing of its fun­da­men­tal­ist Wah­habi ver­sion of Is­lam.

This agree­ment al­lowed the In­sti­tute for the Study of Is­lam and Ara­bic or LIPIA, to open new cam­puses in Makas­sar, Medan and Surabaya. Its ex­ist­ing cam­pus in Jakarta, started in 1980 as part of a world­wide Saudi drive to counter Iran’s rev­o­lu­tion, teaches in Ara­bic and obliges stu­dents to adopt Ara­bic dress and cus­toms. While some grad­u­ates have joined vi­o­lent ji­hadist groups or pur­sue vi­cious cam­paigns against Shi­ites and other mi­nori­ties, even the peace­ful ones con­trib­ute to the “Ara­bi­sa­tion” of In­done­sia.

Of­fi­cial re­ac­tion to the Khashoggi case has been muted, though Wi­dodo did raise it with the vis­it­ing Saudi for­eign min­is­ter on Tues­day, ex­press­ing con­cern and ask­ing for trans­parency. One se­nior of­fi­cial said Jakarta does not want to jeop­ar­dise the Haj quota it re­ceives, al­ways a sen­si­tive do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal is­sue. As the world’s largest Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­try, In­done­sia has the big­gest yearly quota, but there is still a 20-year wait­ing list.

Un­der MBS the Saudis had been promis­ing to tone down the teach­ing of Wah­habism, but the Khashoggi in­ci­dent will per­haps in­crease the per­sua­sive­ness of mod­er­ate and in­clu­sive lo­cal schools of thought such as the Is­lam Nu­san­tara (Is­lam of the Ar­chi­pel­ago) of the 40 mil­lion mem­ber Nahd­latul Ulama or the wasatiyyah (mid­dle path) of the 29 mil­lion mem­ber Muham­madiyah.

Vladimir Putin (left) with US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton in the Krem­lin this week.

HAMISH McDON­ALD is The Sat­ur­day Pa­per’s world ed­i­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.