The World Today for May 25, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Changing Direction

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, has been a pillar of transatlantic relations in the post-World War Two era.

Founded as a bulwark for Western Europe against Soviet aggression in the 1950s, NATO has evolved since the Cold War to tackle threats like maritime security in the Mediterranean, although Russia remains a recurring focus, wrote the Council on Foreign Affairs.

But NATO might be on the cusp of some major changes.

USA Today’s headline on Wednesday explained the situation: “Is NATO ‘obsolete’ or not? Trump and military alliance aim to work out differences.”

During last year’s presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump criticized NATO’s budgetary policies and promised to tackle the issue of “burden-sharing,” noted Foreign Policy.

And as the President prepares to attend his first NATO summit in Brussels today, he’s standing by his claims.

White House officials even said the President would consider leaving NATO if members fail to follow through with pledges to boost their contributions to the alliance by 2 percent, wrote France24.

These calls for increased defense spending have roiled politicians in Europe.

It’s even become a campaign issue in Germany, where Martin Schulz – the Social Democrat’s candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in elections this September – has rejected an increase in German spending.

NATO members are also at odds over suggestions that the organization should do more to combat terrorism by joining other international ventures – like the fight against Islamic State, or IS.

Some NATO top brass like Military Committee head General Petr Pavel have suggested NATO should become part of the coalition against IS.

But key members like France and Germany are resisting calls for NATO to play a bigger role in that fight, said Reuters.

Those countries are concerned that joining the battle against IS could ensnare NATO in another costly and drawn-out deployment à la Afghanistan – or risk pushing the alliance into confrontation with Russia or Syria.

These discussions on NATO’s role here are still ongoing – although combat operations have already been ruled out, said Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

These potential changes in the alliance’s mission go hand-in-hand with another major development: the unveiling of the organization’s glossy new headquarters – which include a memorial containing pieces of the Berlin Wall and the World Trade Center – as the setting for next week’s summit.

It’s a poignant backdrop to reflect on the organization’s purpose and prior accomplishments.

And it will also give the president an opportunity to share some remarks on NATO as he dedicates the memorial.

CNBC wrote the president will use his speech to reaffirm his commitment to the alliance.

But whether he goes as far as some members want – endorsing the notion that an attack on one member is an attack on all – is still to be decided, they added.

WANT TO KNOW

Renegade Love

Taiwan edged closer to becoming the first Asian country to recognize same-sex marriage on Wednesday, as the nation’s constitutional court struck down the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

The legislature now has two years either to amend the Civil Code or to enact laws addressing same-sex couples, the New York Times reported. If it fails to do so, same-sex couples “shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated at the authorities in charge of household registration,” the paper quoted the court as saying.

A response to two petitions asking it to review the current law, the ruling comes as bills to legalize same-sex marriage have stalled after passing an initial reading late last year. It also sends a message to Beijing – which considers Taiwan to be a renegade province. While China stopped treating homosexuality as a crime in 1997, discrimination remains rife and same-sex marriage is still illegal.

Under Fire

Brazil’s President Michel Temer deployed the army to quell widespread protests demanding his resignation, as demonstrators waged a fierce battle with police on Wednesday.

Police used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to try to stop tens of thousands of protesters as they marched towards Congress to call for Temer’s ouster and an end to his austerity program, Reuters reported.

The most violent protest in Brasilia since 2013, the demonstration saw protesters shoot powerful fireworks at police, burn furniture in the Agriculture Ministry, and spray anti-Temer graffiti on government buildings.

The spark for the outrage is a disputed audio recording in which Temer can allegedly be heard instructing a top businessman to bribe a politician convicted for corruption to remain silent rather than implicating other government officials. But Temer was already dismally unpopular, thanks to planned pension reforms and other austerity measures designed to rejuvenate Brazil’s flagging economy.

The violence only fans the flames of uncertainty that have roiled financial markets, as Temer already faces potential removal from office if the top electoral court annuls the results of the 2014 election due to illegal campaign financing.

Cutting Red Tape

India delivered on its promise to reduce red tape on Wednesday by eliminating the bureaucratic body through which all foreign direct investment was previously routed.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Wednesday that the cabinet had agreed to abolish the sometimes-obstructive Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), honoring a budget pledge he made in February, Reuters reported. Individual ministries will now clear foreign investments in their respective industries.

The move marks another step forward in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda of economic reforms, which has already opened up nearly 90 percent of the country’s industrial base, including the defense sectors and the railways, to foreign investment.

India attracted $60 billion in foreign direct investments in the year to March 2017, up 8 percent from the previous year.

Eliminating the FIPB is welcome, because its decisions were often bogged down in infighting between government ministries, leading to delays in projects. But other obstacles, such as the difficulty of acquiring land and India’s notoriously poor infrastructure, remain more serious than bureaucratic hurdles.

DISCOVERIES

No Juice for You

There was a time when parents thought giving their kids 100-percent fruit juice was part of a healthy diet.

But pediatricians say that time is over.

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended parents ban fruit juice entirely from a baby’s diet during the first year of life, the New York Times reported.

The group also recommended that daily quantities of fruit juice should be severely scaled back as a child ages.

In the past, parents were left to decide what was best for their infants. They were told to avoid too much fruit juice, but not to abstain.

But in their report published recently in the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics claims that sugars in fruit juices could potentially supplant what babies really need during the first months of life: proteins, fats and minerals like calcium.

It’s the first time the group has changed its guidelines on fruit juice since 2001.

“I think this is a fantastic recommendation for infants, and it’s long overdue,” said Dr. Elsie M. Taveras, chief of general pediatrics at Mass General Hospital for Children in Boston. “Parents feel their infants need fruit juices, but that’s just a misconception.”

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