The World Today for July 11, 2018

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American President Donald Trump normally takes to the Twittersphere when he has choice words for political allies or enemies.

But ahead of a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) starting Wednesday in Brussels, President Trump chose a more traditional means of communication to voice his concerns, the New York Times reported.

In letters to several NATO allies, including Germany, Belgium, Norway and Canada, the American president repeated claims that European members of the world’s oldest defense alliance aren’t pulling their weight and rely too heavily on the US for the bloc’s defense.

“The United States continues to devote more resources to the defense of Europe when the Continent’s economy, including Germany’s, are doing well and security challenges abound,” Trump wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “This is no longer sustainable for us.”

There’s a basis for the president’s argument, Douglas Lute, US ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration and former senior military adviser to George W. Bush, told Marketplace.

For one, all 29 members of the bloc agreed in 2014 to increase defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024 in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Reuters reported.

By 2017, however, only the United States, in addition to Greece, the United Kingdom and Estonia, had heeded the call, while strategically important countries like Norway, Germany and Belgium were far below the benchmark, the Associated Press reported.

Leaders of the countries Trump singled out told reporters that they’re unfazed by the president’s ominous letters, and contend that spending isn’t necessarily indicative of a commitment to the defense union.

Germany, for example, the nation perhaps most often on the receiving end of Trump’s criticism, is the second largest supplier of NATO troops after the United States, CNBC reported.

“You can easily spend 2 percent of GDP on defense without actually offering anything to NATO,” German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen told reporters last week.

European partners may not subscribe to the president’s talking points, but that doesn’t mean that NATO isn’t at a “critical inflection point,” wrote Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, an American thinktank, for CNBC.

The alliance is overstretched, DePetris wrote, due to security situations in the Middle East and the need to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. That leaves Europe divided on which of an array of security challenges – including Russia, terrorism and cyber attacks – deserve the most attention.

If President Trump continues to undermine NATO – especially ahead of his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month – that could further empower Moscow or other actors to push against the bloc, the Guardian quoted Sir Nigel Sheinwald, former UK ambassador to Washington, as saying.

Amid the speculation, however, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted last month that NATO’s trans-Atlantic alliance is actually strengthening, pointing to the fact that eight countries in the bloc will reach the 2-percent benchmark by next year, the Guardian wrote in a separate report.

But with the American president’s penchant for the dramatic and so many high-profile international summits on the horizon, CNN wrote there’s a good chance that President Trump’s letter blast won’t be the most dramatic development of this week’s summit.



Blast from the Past

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis signed a power-sharing deal with the Communist Party on Tuesday to ensure he survives a mandatory confidence vote in the lower house of Parliament – giving the far-left party a role in the government for the first time since the country’s 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution.

Sworn in on June 27, the government of Babis’ centrist ANO (YES) movement and the leftist Social Democrats doesn’t have a majority in the house and needs the Communists’ support to survive, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the passage of nearly 30 years since the Velvet Revolution, joining hands with the communists is still controversial enough that thousands of Czechs rallied against the move. Moreover, the Czech Communist Party has not swayed from a hardline stance against NATO and support for Cuba, China and North Korea.

The party also opposes deploying Czech troops to Poland and the Baltics as part of NATO’s bulwark against Russia, insisting that Moscow poses no threat to the region.


Bombs Versus Ballots

A suicide bomber succeeded in killing a candidate from a party that opposes the Taliban in Pakistan, just weeks before the July 25 general elections.

The attack killed at least 12 people, including Haroon Bilour, who was campaigning for a provincial assembly seat in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the New York Times reported. The death toll is expected to rise.

No group has claimed responsibility but many believe it’s the work of the Pakistani Taliban, given that Bilour belonged to the Awami National Party, whose opposition to the militant group has made it a repeated target for such attacks. His father, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a prominent politician and a senior provincial minister, was killed in a similar attack ahead of the last general elections, in 2013.

The incident has raised fears of further violence as the election approaches. It was widely condemned by other Pakistani political leaders, including opposition gadfly Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.


Line in the Sand

China may be tolerating a greater degree of dissent than it did 20 or 30 years ago. But in the case of one trenchant critic, it has drawn a clear line in the sand.

The Wuhan City Intermediate People’s Court in central China sentenced 64-year-old Qin Yongmin, one of the country’s most prominent democracy and human rights activists, to 13 years in prison this week for “subversion of state power,” BBC News reported.

Qin has already spent some 22 years behind bars.

A co-founder of the China Democracy Party, he was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 1998 after he tried to register the party officially. A year later, while still in prison, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was arrested in January 2015 while leading a pro-democracy group called China Human Rights Watch, which organized discussion groups and criticized the government’s policies online.

The verdict was announced a day after Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo, was allowed to leave China for exile in Germany.


Stumbling through History

Stolpersteine,” German for “stumbling stones,” are brass plaques placed in the sidewalks outside of houses and buildings throughout Europe by German artist Gunter Demnig to memorialize victims of the Nazi regime.

In the Austrian city of Salzburg, there are 388 of these brass cobblestones. But over time, some of them have become weathered and damaged.

So local retiree Gerhard Geier has taken it upon himself to restore them one by one, the BBC reported.

“I am trying to clean the memorial stones to Ludwig and Emilie Fischer and to Mrs. Amalie Loewy so that people will notice them better,” he told the BBC, citing the names etched on the plaques he was preparing to clean.

It’s a heart-rending task for Geier, especially when he encounters plaques dedicated to children.

“I ask myself, ‘What would have become of you?’” he said.

Geier’s family was not persecuted by the Nazi regime in Austria, but the current political moment calls for all to remember the horrors of the past, he said.

“One sees the way the world is going, this growing nationalism,” he said. “With these memorials, I want to do something to prevent those dreadful times from happening again.”

Click here to see him keep the memory alive.

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