Garvan Walshe: Finland and Sweden’s NATO application shows how much Russia has already lost 

12 May

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.

Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO is more evidence that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been a monstrous mistake. Moscow has maintained an effective veto on Swedish and Finnish membership since ether Cold War. Now, with Russian troops bogged down in the Donbas, Helsinki and Stockholm can join while Russia’s too busy to do much about it.

It also complicates Putin’s tactical situation.  NATO forces could soon be positioned to open a second front north of St Petersburg, limiting Russia’s ability to intimidate the Baltic States, and to broaden the directions from which Murmansk on the Arctic coast can be subject to counterattacks.

Instead of Finland defending a 830 mile border with Russia, Russia will now have to defend another 830 miles of border with NATO. The island of Gotland, from which the Baltic Sea can be controlled, will be a NATO, not just a Swedish, island.

But the most important difference is geopolitical. Look at the globe from the top, and list the countries across the Pole from Russia: the United States (through Alaska), Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland. This arc sweeps down through the Baltic States, Poland and the other countries that escaped Soviet domination in 1989, to Ukraine. All except Ukraine are in NATO – and Ukraine is inflicting the biggest defeat of Russia since the Japanese in 1905.

Apart from the US and Canada, which must also pay attention to Chinese ambitions in the Pacific, all these states see resisting Russian aggression as their main defence policy task. 

This will remain the case until the Russian state comes to understand that its purpose should be to improve the lives of Russian people, and that this is hindered, not helped, by paranoid militarism. Yet that process won’t even begin until Putin leaves office, and could well be reversed, even if he’s followed by a liberalising successor. Both Tsar Alexander II’s and Boris Yeltsin’s openings were overturned.  

These first-line states, of which the UK, Poland and Ukraine are the main military powers, can expect to maintain decades of containment of Moscow. As well as strengthening their own cooperation, they need to keep the rest of the Western alliance involved. 

Even setting aside the risk of a second Trump administration, a United States that returns to isolationism, or is simply focused on China, would be unable to help mount a defence against Russian aggression in the way it has this time. Continental European powers such as France and Germany under less immediate threat to Russia need to be persuaded who their real friends are.

The German government is divided. While Annalena Baerbock, its Foreign Minister, has been steadfast in her support for Ukraine, Olaf Scholz appears to lack the courage of his convictions, and needs continually to be pushed to live up to the Zeitenwende he announced immediately after Russia invaded.

And as Emmanuel’s Macron’s speech on Monday showed, France still struggles to shrug off its reflex of seeking somehow to involve Russia in contributing to security in Europe. This thinking has long been obsolete: a democratic Germany inside the EU has long made a Russian balance to Prussia unnecessary, and Poland’s integration into the West made it unsustainable.

But winning the political battles in France and Germany (and maintaining Mario Draghi’s new pro-Ukrainian consensus in Italy) will take more concerted diplomatic effort. It’s been entertaining to watch the friendly rivalry by former European schoolmates as they compete for visits to Kyiv and videotaped addresses by Volodomyr Zelensky. Whether they are Anglo-Swedish NLAWs (anti-tank weapons), US Javelins, German Panzerfausts or French CAESAR howitzers, all contribute to Ukraine’s fight for freedom. This is not a race, but a collective effort in which all democracies should take part.  

Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, accompanied by British security guarantees for both countries until the NATO accession process is complete, is one such initiative. Denmark joining the EU’s defence policy (it currently has an opt out: a referendum is due on 1 June, and ‘join’ has a 20 point lead) is another.  The requirement is not necessarily unity of institutions, but unity of action, which must be pursued through NATO, EU initiatives and the British-led Joint Expeditionary force. 

Next winter, when inflation and high energy prices are due to bite, will prove critical. Russia will put every ounce of its political manipulation effort into splitting Germany, France and Italy from the front line states. It is an essential British interest that these efforts fail. 

Lasting peace in Europe will only come once Russia, like Germany has, abandons imperialist ambitions, reforms its militaristic culture, and retreats from all territory in other states that it has occupied. Putin’s defeat won’t be enough on its own to trigger the introspection and reconstruction that Russia needs. But it is a necessary step, and his inability to enforce Moscow’s ban on Finnish and Swedish NATO membership is evidence that he is starting to lose. 

Stephen Booth: Switzerland’s painstaking negotiations with the EU tell us a lot about our future relationship with Brussels

3 Jun

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

Is the EU making a habit of alienating its neighbours? Last week, the Swiss government informed Brussels that after seven years of painstaking negotiations it was unwilling to sign a proposed “Institutional Framework Agreement” designed to consolidate and govern the Swiss-EU relationship. The breakdown between Bern and Brussels has obvious parallels with Brexit and has to some extent become intertwined with it.

Switzerland’s bespoke and often fraught relationship with the EU has developed more by accident than by design. In a referendum in 1992, Swiss voters rejected joining Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein in the European Economic Area (EEA). At the time, the Swiss government saw EEA membership as a precursor to joining the EU – a Swiss application for full EU membership remained dormant and was only officially withdrawn in 2016.

In the meantime, Switzerland and the EU concluded a patchwork of around 120 bilateral treaties, resulting in a high degree of Swiss integration into the Single Market – a bit less than those countries that joined the EEA but more than under the UK-EU agreement reached last year. Generally, while EEA countries are obliged to dynamically align their legislation to the evolving EU acquis, Switzerland’s arrangements have given it more autonomy over whether to adopt EU law, or equivalent standards, in order to access the Single Market.

The EU has long seen the Swiss arrangement as a problem, since it requires permanent political negotiation and, in Brussels’s words, “leads to a lack of legal homogeneity and uncertainty and ultimately to an unequal treatment of economic operators.”

Switzerland’s prized national independence and system of direct democracy notably clashed with the EU in 2014, when Swiss voters narrowly backed a referendum initiative to impose quotas on EU immigration, in violation of the Swiss-EU agreement on free movement. The Swiss government managed to implement the 2014 vote without too much collateral damage to the EU relationship (critics argued the referendum instruction was watered down), and a subsequent 2020 referendum backed free movement.

However, the 2014 episode spurred the EU into pushing for an overhaul of the Swiss relationship. The Brexit referendum and its aftermath probably encouraged the EU to be even more hard-nosed in its negotiations with the Swiss, particularly since Theresa May’s “Chequers plan” proposed a package of pick-and-choose alignment with the Single Market comparable to the “Swiss model”.

In 2018, after four years of talks, the EU informed Switzerland that it considered negotiations to have concluded. The proposed deal would see Swiss laws change in line with EU legislation, while an arbitration panel would resolve Swiss-EU disputes and, crucially, include a role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for the first time.

Mindful that the agreement would likely need public approval in a referendum, the Swiss government asked for more time to consult domestically, which resulted in additional demands, including exemptions from EU state aid and freedom of movement rules.

During the sporadic talks that followed, the EU sought to put pressure on Switzerland to ratify the deal by, for example, letting the “equivalence” status granted to Switzerland’s stock exchanges expire. Guy Parmelin, the Swiss President, said last week, however, that the Swiss government had concluded that the “necessary solutions” could not be reached, which is why it “decided to terminate the negotiations.”

What happens next is unclear. The Swiss say they wish to continue and develop the bilateral approach, even without an institutional agreement, which seems unlikely, since the EU appears confident it can exert further pressure to bring the Swiss back to the table. Brussels has said, that without the deal, new access to the Single Market would be impossible to negotiate and existing access agreements will “erode” over time as the body of EU law develops.

The conclusion of the UK-EU trade agreement has also changed the landscape. The UK does not have the same level of market access as Switzerland, but the UK-EU deal, with the important exception of Northern Ireland, sees no role for the ECJ or dynamic alignment with EU rules. If the post-Brexit UK is seen to be a success, Switzerland may ultimately judge that the “UK model” is better than accepting the EU’s current terms.

What lessons should post-Brexit Britain draw from the Swiss experience? Some Brexiters will feel vindicated in their view that the EU is ideological, uncompromising, and bullying. Some Remainers will no doubt say they always warned that the UK wouldn’t be able to pick and choose its access to EU markets. Ultimately, whatever one’s emotions, the effect is the same.

Unless there is a sea change in Brussels, the EU has demonstrated via its actions that the political bar for substantially closer UK-EU economic cooperation is likely to be a high one for any future UK government to pass. Now that Brexit is fact, few in the UK appear confident to make the political argument that the UK should submit to UK-EU arbitration arrangements involving the ECJ to remove some of the new trade barriers that have arisen.

Therefore, greater divergence with the EU is likely in the future, whether we like it or not. EU law will continue to change without the UK. The UK can seek to coordinate with Brussels but its agreement cannot be guaranteed. The UK should focus on exploiting the levers it can now control, be it using its own subsidy regime to encourage inward investment or to ensure the City is a leading non-EU financial centre (the UK has already reversed the EU ban on trading Swiss stocks).

Meanwhile, the UK must continue to cultivate its diplomatic relationships outside the EU. Among other things, this means implementing the Indo-Pacific tilt by developing the relationship with India and concluding trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, and acceding to the CPTPP. Yesterday, the CPTPP nations agreed to the UK’s bid to begin the formal accession process.

The UK might also find common cause closer to home with the Swiss. Not least in trying to convince EU nations that the European continent would be better served by a less short-sighted policy towards countries that have chosen a different path, but nevertheless should be some of their closest partners.

Simon Schofield: Iceland, the UAE and Vietnam have had some of the best responses to Covid. Here’s what we can learn from them.

22 Apr

Simon Schofield is a long-time Conservative member and activist serving as Deputy Director at the Human Security Centre, a think tank based in London, as well as co-editor of Encyclopedia Geopolitica.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, our lives have been saturated with debate and argument about which countries are succeeding and which are failing in their responses to the pandemic.

However, these debates are often rooted in “the West”, and the successes of nations outside of this club tend to be passing headlines at most. There are a number of countries outside of the Anglosphere whose approaches to testing, treating, and vaccinating citizens amid the pandemic could hold vital knowledge for the West, both for governments’ Covid-19 response going forward, and also for future pandemics we may face.

In the realms of research, while not strictly “outside the Anglosphere”, the small island nation of Iceland is perhaps not one that immediately comes to mind when thinking of the countries with the most successful responses. But Nature, the premier scientific journal of the age, has described Iceland as having “hammered Covid with science”.

Iceland’s Directorate of Health teamed up with deCODE, a human genomic company, taking a “big data” approach to researching the Coronavirus outbreak. Due to this high-tech partnership and Iceland’s low population, the health authorities were able to track virtually every move the virus made on Iceland’s shores, monitoring every person who tested positive’s health for weeks afterwards to map out the symptoms.

This approach gave some of the earliest insights into the nature of Coronavirus, highlighting the key symptomatic indicators, as well as showing that as many as half of infected people are asymptomatic, and that children are much less likely to fall ill.

Using deCODE’s specialism in genetics, the DNA of the virus identified in each positive test was analysed, allowing mutations to be tracked virtually in real time, as well as having clear lines of transmission that mapped out how each strain of the virus had traversed the population. This genetic-tracing approach has had very real impacts, with Iceland recording an exceptionally low death rate of seven per 100,000.

Another nation under-appreciated for its innovative response to the pandemic is Vietnam. Vietnam has implemented a particularly effective contact-tracing regime, making use of people’s public social media posts to cross-reference with their declarations of where they have been and who they have had contact with.

In order to get ahead of viral transmission, Vietnam has sought to identify first, second, and even third-order contacts, sometimes as many as 200 people for a single positive-testing case, and quarantining all those in the first and second order at designated facilities. As a result of its robust response, fewer than one per cent of those testing positive are listed as having caught the virus from “an unknown source”, a remarkable achievement.

Third, while the United Arab Emirates made waves over the summer by announcing its normalisation of ties with Israel, a welcome development which will fundamentally realign the regional geopolitical tectonics, its Covid-19 response has been somewhat overlooked.

However, it certainly could have provided Europe with inspiration on how to address its vaccine woes. The UAE has partnered with Sinopharm to build its own factory for the Sinovax vaccine, having offered a base from where to carry out clinical trials for the vaccine early on in its development.

This joint venture will eventually have capacity to produce 200 million vaccine doses per year. When produced in Abu Dhabi, the final product will be branded Hayat-Vax and as “Made in the UAE” but it is the same inactivated virus vaccine as Sinovax.

The UAE, having vaccinated much of its own population already, will therefore be in a position to help vaccinate its neighbours in the Gulf and beyond, allowing the region to recover and reopen much more quickly. Conversely, governments in Europe are now being told that they desperately need to increase their own domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity against a backdrop of production shortfalls and squabbles over supplies.

Each of these national responses may not always be replicable, or even desirable, elsewhere. But what they highlight is the need for curiosity and humility, two traits not traditionally associated with politics, when looking to innovate ahead of the next major outbreak.

While calls for an international treaty on pandemics are still at relatively early stages, as many governments focus on the day-to-day response to the outbreak, they cannot come soon enough to ensure we institutionalise this information sharing internationally to ensure the best ideas are noted and implemented.

Emily Barley: The Government’s Brexit plan puts us at risk of substandard and corrupt justice systems in EU member states

21 Jul

Emily Barley is Director of Due Process, the anti-EAW campaign group, and Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty.

Brexit campaigners hailed a massive victory when, back in February, the Government announced that we will be leaving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Finally, we knew we’d be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), be able to restore our great British tradition of civil liberties, and could protect people living here from the abuses and mistakes of the EAW processes, substandard EU justice systems, and medieval European prisons.

But there was a sting in the tail of the Government’s announcement: sure, the plan was to leave the EAW, but then replace it with something that looks suspiciously like the EAW.

The EU-Iceland-Norway agreement the Government is modelling its proposed extradition agreement on has been described by experts as the “EAW-lite”, and has all the same problems that have raised such widespread objections to the EAW.

Under the Government’s plan we would be technically outside of the ECJ, but our courts would still need to take into account its judgments – in practice continuing the same state of affairs as now and not fulfilling the expectations Boris Johnson raised when he promised to take us out of it.

This new EU-wide agreement would have the same foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” between the UK and EU member states which requires British judges to turn a blind eye to serious abuses and mistakes in the substandard and corrupt justice systems of the likes of Poland, Greece, Hungary and Romania.

This system leaves us all vulnerable. It has led to cases like that of Edmond Arapi, who was convicted of a murder in Italy that happened while he was at work in the UK; Andrew Symeou, who was held in a Greek hell-hole for ten months after an ill-fated holiday where police beat false accusations out of his friends, and Alexander Adamescu, whose case is the most infamous and egregious example of the failings of the EAW going through the UK courts right now.

Adamescu is sought by Romanian authorities to face charges of corruption in a business insolvency case. There is no evidence against Adamescu, but that doesn’t matter under the EAW – because British judges cannot look at the evidence, or lack of it, even if they wanted to.

Human rights campaigners have described the conviction in 2014 of Alexander’s father, Dan Adamescu, on the same charges in the same case as a “show trial” which violated the presumption of innocence – but that doesn’t matter under the EAW, because the foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” means British judges must have blind faith in the justice systems of other countries.

Even when evidence mounts that the case against Adamescu is a politically motivated stitch-up by an unreformed communistic state, British judges must look the other way, required to believe that EU member states always act with integrity and in accordance with the law. It would be laughable if the consequences of the UK continuing with an EAW-lite extradition system weren’t so serious.

The Government says it wants to introduce “further safeguards” into this “new” system, but the ones we really need – like asking judges to look at the evidence against the accused (a prima facie case), and not sending people to countries with corrupt justice systems and medieval prisons – are incompatible with its plan.

We need to do this thing properly, and drop the idea of an EU-wide extradition agreement.

What we need instead is a series of bilateral agreements which acknowledge the varying quality of justice systems in EU member states and introduce a diplomatic check in the process, as is already the case with extraditions to non-EU countries.

I set out exactly how this would work in my report The future of extradition from the UK: Protecting fundamental rights, recently published by Due Process. There’s a lot at stake here. The Romanian state has already killed Dan Adamescu, and has its sights set on his son.

Innocent people going on holiday to EU countries are at risk of having their lives turned upside down, like Symeou’s was. And even those who stay at home, minding their own business and never setting foot in a particular country, are at risk of accusations and convictions under the EAW, like Arapi.

Johnson won the election last year with a commitment to take us out of the clutches of the EU, and unless that includes abandoning the idea of a dangerous EAW-lite system, he will have failed.