Friends and enemies: France is a big loser from Brexit

When Britain leaves, the power imbalance between Berlin and Paris will be laid bare

Philip Stephens

web_France and Brexit
© Ingram Pinn/Financial Times

He had never forgiven Britain for winning the war. So Harold Macmillan concluded after Charles de Gaulle vetoed the UK’s attempt to join the then common market. Right or wrong, the British prime minister’s estimate of the French president’s motives itself reflected the enduring rivalry between the two nations. Perhaps they are forever doomed to be at once friends and enemies.

“We’ll miss the Brits,” a long-serving French diplomat says of Britain’s departure from the EU. The respect is mutual. These diplomats are cut from the same, expensive intellectual cloth. In the Elysée Palace, however, it seems that Emmanuel Macron has lost patience. Brexit paralysis has stretched his forbearance beyond limits. The president wants the latest extension of Article 50 — until January 31 — to be the last.

The irritation is understandable. Brexit was a British decision that, beyond the self-harm, imposed significant costs on the other 27 EU states. Yet, justified as Mr Macron may be, it is less evident that his frustration serves a useful purpose. What does he propose, should next month’s UK election fail to break the deadlock? A nation faced with the truly dismal choice of returning Boris Johnson as prime minister or backing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may summon up the collective wisdom to deny either a majority.

It would be odd if the EU were to respond by expelling Britain. Who would win from a disorderly Brexit? Donald Tusk, the thoughtful outgoing president of the European Council, warns against an acrimonious rupture. Britain and the EU must live with each other after Brexit. Then there is the possibility — no more than that — of an inconclusive election giving Brits a chance to change their minds.

Mr Macron’s ire, I suspect, is rooted in a deeper discontent. The president is one of those rare politicians who takes risks to change the political weather. He has ideas for Europe, many of them sensible. Across the rest of the EU he sees a collection of leaders whose first instinct is to run for shelter.

Before Mr Macron reached the Elysée, Berlin bemoaned the absence of a credible partner in Paris. Now that they have one, Angela Merkel’s ambition for the twilight of her chancellorship is a quiet life. Germany still nods in the direction of Europe, this week signalling a softening of its opposition to a eurozone banking union. But nothing can be allowed overly to disturb German voters.

A nuisance it may be, but Brexit is not the explanation for Ms Merkel’s refusal to create a sizeable eurozone budget or for the failure of German politicians of left and right to confront voters with the awkward truth that they are the big winners from European integration.

By the same measure, Britain’s Brexit breakdown cannot be blamed for the complaints heard across European capitals about Mr Macron’s imperious manner. The president is an immodest man. He might have learnt something from the trouble he has had with the gilets jaunes protests across France. Emotional intelligence has its uses.

Possibly, and this is pure speculation, the irascibility reflects something else: a secret understanding that, for all the pleasure some will draw from Britain’s misfortunes, France may well emerge the biggest Brexit loser among the EU27.

Through the decades, governments in London have deployed all sorts of diplomatic chicanery to insert themselves between Paris and Berlin. Once or twice, on the principle that “if you can’t beat them, join them”, they have promoted the idea of an informal trilateral directorate in place of the Franco-German axis. The attempts failed, yet Britain’s presence in the EU provided, of itself, an element of balance. Post-Brexit, the union will look and feel quite different. Above all, the power imbalance between Berlin and Paris will be brutally exposed.

Alone among the big EU nations, Britain and France have global outlooks and interests. They have sizeable, deployable armed forces. History has left them with a national temperament at ease with venturing well beyond their own frontiers. France can do much with other EU partners to improve European defence. It cannot do anything serious without Britain.

Brexit will weaken Britain economically. The temptation will be to turn inwards. France would be a loser. The two nations have been travelling in the same, leaky boat — struggling to hold on to their claims to a global role against the claims of rising states, and constant pressure on national defence budgets. Their hold on permanent seats on the UN Security Council looks anachronistic. If Britain now falls overboard as a result of Brexit, France will find it that much harder to keep the vessel afloat.

Mr Macron likes to invite comparisons between his own leadership and that of de Gaulle. And it is true enough that the general’s decision to wield a veto now seems prescient. Britain would always be at best a halfhearted European, ever fearful of compromising its relations with the US, de Gaulle declared in January 1963. So it has proved, you might say, watching Mr Johnson cuddle up to Mr Trump.

Mr Macron, though, might also reflect that de Gaulle’s vision of a united Europe led by France and equal to the US has also been sorely disappointed. At some point, when the acrimony has dissipated, and the British have cleared their heads, Britain and France will need to find a way to get along again. Patience would then be repaid.

The Siren Song of Strategic Autonomy

A recent report by the European Commission’s in-house think tank has called for Europe to aim for more “strategic autonomy.” But what may seem like an innocuous goal could easily take an economic-nationalist turn, with serious implications for world trade and the global economy.

Daniel Gros

gros128_ilbusca Getty Images_euroeuropemap

BRUSSELS – For over a year, US President Donald Trump’s protectionist war against China – and his broader use of import tariffs to advance geopolitical objectives – has been fueling anxiety about the future of world trade. But tariffs are only the tip of the iceberg of economic nationalism. If the world doesn’t navigate carefully, hidden hazards could sink the global trading system.

The United States has not found any followers in its aggressive use of tariffs. In developing countries, there is little pressure to implement similar measures, because so many firms manufacture globally, and even those that do not depend on global supply chains. And in developed economies, major sectors that struggled to cope with import competition in the past – such as the clothing and steel industries – have by now mostly adjusted, and no longer play an important role. This explains why US business leaders largely opposed Trump’s tariffs. It thus seems unlikely that the use of tariffs will spread beyond the US-China dispute.

Despite involving the world’s two largest economies, the tariff war seems to be petering out.

Even the self-declared “tariff man” is starting to recognize the limits of this policy instrument.

A growing body of evidence indicates that, contrary to most economists’ expectations, Chinese firms have increased their prices in line with tariffs, negating any benefit the US might reap from squeezing its suppliers.

Last month, the US and China reached a “phase one” deal that will, it is hoped, lead to an agreement that ends the trade war. But even if such an agreement is not forthcoming, the fallout for the global economy may not be as severe as many fear. After all, bilateral US-China trade amounts to about $700 billion – less than 1% of global GDP.

Nonetheless, markets are reacting to every new development in the US-China tariff saga. They recognize the deeper – and far more serious – risks generated by economic nationalism, the belief that national security is compromised when a country’s economy and military depend on imports.

The clearest example might be US fears of imports of products from China containing computer chips. But should all such imports be banned in the name of national security? What about exports of computer chips or software? Do they also threaten national security? Judging by its decision to add the Chinese tech giant Huawei to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List (thereby prohibiting US firms from selling the company the components it needs), the Trump administration thinks so.

Of course, this is not lost on Chinese policymakers. They recognize that the US may cut off China’s access to advanced microchips or designs at any time, in order to stymie the development of its high-tech industries. And now, as part of the Made in China 2025 policy, they are working to make the country self-sufficient in key technologies.

The original motivation behind Made in China 2025 might have been economic: to ensure the growth of the high-tech sectors that will be vital to future competitiveness. But in the new geopolitical environment, the plan has mutated into strategic import substitution, which has never been an effective formula for sustained growth.

Such geostrategic efforts to reduce interdependence have a much greater and more far-reaching economic impact than bilateral tariffs, which at least create opportunities for other suppliers (Vietnamese smartphone exports, for example, are booming). By contrast, the spillover effects of national-security measures are mostly negative. High-tech firms worldwide might soon have to choose between the Chinese and American markets.

But the risk of economic nationalism extends beyond the US and China to include the world’s largest trading bloc, the European Union. The EU was founded on the belief that interdependence would make conflict less likely. There was little economic logic in uniting France and Germany’s coal and steel industries. But the political logic was clear: with those vital sectors under a common authority, it would be materially impossible for either side to plan war against the other.

More recently, however, Europe seems to be taking a different tack, at least in relation to the other major powers. This shift is exemplified by a recent report by the European Commission’s in-house think tank, which called for Europe to aim for more “strategic autonomy.”

At first glance, it seems like an innocuous goal: if the EU wants to defend its values globally, it first needs to consolidate its own capacity to act. But this drive for strategic autonomy could easily take an economic-nationalist turn. Already, experts in foreign policy are leading the call for a European industrial policy that would have more than a little in common with Made in China 2025.

Some might ask what’s wrong with that. If China’s government can intervene to protect or foster certain high-tech sectors for security reasons, Europe should be able to subsidize the domestic production of strategically significant technologies, such as 5G equipment and artificial intelligence. But such a subsidy race makes little sense, in economic or security terms.

Trade naturally creates mutual dependence. If Europe imports certain high-tech goods, it is likely to export others, including, perhaps, the machines to make those goods. When it comes to 5G equipment and software, for example, no single supplier can develop and produce all the necessary components. That is why the companies in this market have created a patent pool that enables them to use their rivals’ technology.

To be sure, there is a case for increasing investment in research and development, so that more European enterprises can participate in developing the technologies of tomorrow. But economic nationalism – whether in the form of a subsidy race or an attempt to become self-sufficient in some technologies – will do a lot more harm than good.

Daniel Gros is Director of the Centre for European Policy Studies.

The Hidden Cost of Gold: Birth Defects and Brain Damage

By Richard C. Paddock

An outlaw gold miner on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa examining a nugget of gold combined with toxic mercury, which is used to extract the precious metal from crushed ore.Credit...Adam Dean for The New York Times

CIDAHU, Indonesia — Thousands of children with crippling birth defects. Half a million people poisoned. A toxic chemical found in the food supply. Accusations of a government cover-up and police officers on the take.

This is the legacy of Indonesia’s mercury trade, a business intertwined with the lucrative and illegal production of gold.

More than a hundred nations have joined a global campaign to reduce the international trade in mercury, an element so toxic there is “no known safe level of exposure,” according to health experts.

But that effort has backfired in Indonesia, where illicit backyard manufacturers have sprung up to supply wildcat miners and replace mercury that was previously imported from abroad.

Now, Indonesia produces so much black-market mercury that it has become a major global supplier, surreptitiously shipping thousands of tons to other parts of the world.

Much of the mercury is destined for use in gold mining in Africa and Asia, passing through hubs such as Dubai and Singapore, according to court records — and the trade has deadly consequences.

“It is a public health crisis,” said Yuyun Ismawati, a co-founder of an Indonesian environmental group, Nexus3 Foundation, and a recipient of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. She has called for a worldwide ban on using mercury in gold mining.

Mercury can be highly dangerous as it accumulates up the food chain, causing a wide range of disorders, including birth defects, neurological problems and even death.

Today, despite the risks, small-scale miners using mercury operate in about 80 countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas. They produce up to 25 percent of all gold sold.

As gold makes its way around the world, so too does mercury — poisoning the air and food of people thousands of miles away. Small-scale gold mining is the largest single source of mercury pollution.

A recent study of women on 24 remote islands found that more than half displayed high mercury levels. The women lived far from sources of mercury pollution but ate a diet rich in fish. In the United States, contaminated fish is the No. 1 source of mercury poisoning.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, stands out for its huge number of outlaw gold miners and for concerns that some law enforcement officials assigned to police the trade are instead profiting from it.

As much as anyone, Cece Rifa’i, a former miner, is responsible for Indonesia’s mercury boom and spreading the scourge of contamination across the country.

But he has no regrets.

“I don’t feel guilty about anything,” he said from the veranda of his two-story home on the island of Java.

For years, Mr. Cece was a pioneer in a network of illegal mercury producers, traders and smugglers who supply gold miners across Indonesia with mercury, used to extract gold from crushed ore.

On a single day, operating a furnace he constructed in his backyard, he could produce a ton of black-market mercury worth more than $20,000, he said.

For decades, Indonesia got most of its mercury legally from the United States and Europe. But recognizing the harm it was doing, Western countries began reducing mercury exports six years ago.

Since 2013, 114 countries, including Indonesia, have signed on to the Minamata Convention, a treaty that took effect in 2017 and that requires participating nations to reduce the export and use of mercury in a variety of industries.

Nevertheless, United Nations trade data shows that Indonesia became a significant exporter of mercury from 2015 to 2017, peaking at more than 320 tons in 2016.

Ms. Yuyun, the environmentalist, estimates that illicit manufacturers in Indonesia produce more than 10,000 tons of mercury a year. About a third is used in gold mining in Indonesia, she said, the rest smuggled overseas.

The government banned the use of mercury in gold mining in 2014, but has done little to curb its use, clean up contaminated sites or warn the public of the danger.

In surveys of 24 hot spots, the Nexus3 Foundation and a team of independent doctors found more than 700 cases of suspected mercury poisoning, including children with birth defects and villagers with irreversible neurological disorders. At least 45 have died.

Based on these studies, the environmental group estimates that decades of mining have poisoned 500,000 people.

The mercury trade is lucrative, but the gold business it supports is far more profitable. By some estimates, Indonesia’s illicit small-scale gold miners produce as much as $5 billion a year.

Poverty is widespread in Indonesia, and many people, jobless and desperate, have flocked to the gold fields.

As miners, they often live outside the law, digging for ore on land without permission or government permits, sometimes in national parks and protected areas.

To extract gold, the miners mix liquid mercury with crushed ore. Gold in the ore binds with the mercury to produce an amalgam of the metals. The miners heat the small lump with a blowtorch, sending mercury vapors into the air and leaving the gold behind.

Many miners like the method because it gives them a quick return.

But in mining communities, airborne mercury levels can be dangerously high. Wastewater containing mercury finds its way into fields, streams and bays, contaminating rice, fruit and fish, studies show.

Government officials have known about mercury-related health problems in the gold fields since at least 2012, Ms. Yuyun said, but they have not warned residents about the dangers of consuming potentially contaminated rice and fish.

Last year, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry conducted tests in seven mining communities and identified 558 adults and children with high mercury levels, many with severe exposure. The sampling also found high levels in rice.

But the ministry has yet to notify subjects of their test results or issue a public warning for fear of setting off panic over the safety of the food supply.

“It’s a crime to deliberately conceal the damning results,” said Ms. Yuyun, the lead researcher on small-scale mining at the International Pollutants Elimination Network. “People are dying and have little access to any effective treatment. The government has to stop the mercury trade and clean up the mess.”
Environment Ministry officials declined to be interviewed and did not respond to written questions.

Officials in the office of Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, acknowledged that mercury contamination is a serious problem and said he had issued a national action plan that calls for cleaning up four hot spots.

The president also has directed police and military commanders to take action against personnel found to be involved in the illegal metals trade. Officials said they were unaware of anyone being disciplined. Spokesmen for the national police and the military declined to be interviewed.

Officials say the public has been warned about mercury’s dangers, but there is little evidence of this in mining areas. Many miners insist it is not hazardous.

The role of corrupt officials in the gold and mercury trade is widely recognized but seldom addressed by the government.

Some members of the police and military are said to finance gold mining operations, extort protection money, oversee their own mines and ensure the safe transit of mercury and gold. Many tons of mercury seized by the police have gone missing.

“When we went to the field and talked to the people there, they admitted that the police gave them the mercury,” said Putu Selly Andayani, head of the West Nusa Tenggara Province Trade Agency. “They said the police helped them to set up the illegal mining.”

Throughout the country, miners work with mercury in plain sight without fear of punishment. The occasional arrests of furnace workers and smugglers have barely dented the supply.

Mercury remains cheap and plentiful in the gold fields, where it is sold in mining supply shops or by dealers who travel from village to village. Dozens of Indonesian websites offer mercury for sale.

One international smuggler arrested last year was Chander Hass Khera, an Indian citizen. Seized documents show that he shipped 9.7 tons of mercury to South Africa, Thailand and India in 2017.

Last year, he bought an additional 3.8 tons from a dozen traders, said Dyah Paramita, a researcher at the Center for Regulation Policy and Governance in West Java, who reviewed court records.

Soon after the smuggler’s arrest, most of his confiscated mercury disappeared from police custody. The police told the court they were investigating.

Mr. Khera was sentenced to 18 months in prison for trying to ship mercury produced without proper permits.

Like methamphetamine labs in rural America, mercury distillation often takes place in remote areas, far from prying eyes.

Mr. Cece, 64, the prolific backyard mercury producer, began mining gold as a young man.

In 2010, as wildcat mining boomed, he said he started searching for cinnabar, the ore from which liquid mercury is produced.

Inspired by his years vaporizing mercury by blowtorch, he constructed a simple concrete furnace with a narrow trench in the center for a wood fire, steel buckets to heat the reddish ore and fixtures to capture the mercury as it cooled and liquefied.

His home in Sukabumi Regency in western Java is an unlikely spot for this backyard industry.

A picturesque area of rice paddies and simple villages, there is no cinnabar ore or nearby highway. There is not even a road to Mr. Cece’s house in Cidahu village.

But on his patio, Mr. Cece built a furnace so large it could produce a ton of mercury in 24 hours.

He arranged to have cinnabar shipped from distant islands, often using express courier services.

He hired local men — “robbers, thieves and hit men,” he called them — to work the furnace.

Local police officers and health officials visited frequently, sometimes taking water samples. On each visit, he said, he gave them “pocket money.”

The inspectors found no health problems.

On one occasion, he said, he demonstrated his furnace to a high-ranking police official from Jakarta.

Soon dozens of copycat furnaces began appearing in Sukabumi and on islands closer to the cinnabar mines, helping flood the black market with cheap mercury.

“We all know that he is the pioneer,” said, Alung, 35, who learned the business working for Mr. Cece. Like many Indonesians, he uses one name.

The police cracked down on mercury producers in Sukabumi in 2017, shutting down three dozen furnaces and arresting about 100 people, including Mr. Cece.

He and nearly all the others avoided jail by agreeing to stop making mercury. Mr. Cece dismantled his furnace.

The police seized nearly a ton of mercury from three furnaces in the village. Mr. Cece and Mr. Alung suspect the police sold it because they brought their own containers to haul it away.

Before the crackdown, mercury production meant jobs.

Whatever the health hazard, the work paid better than anything else, and they were disappointed when the furnaces were shut down.

“We know it’s dangerous,” Mr. Alung said. “But we’re sad. We no longer have the income.”

How the Deep State Really Works

by David Stockman

International Man: Last year, President Trump took the unusual step of bypassing his advisors to announce his intention to withdraw all US troops from Syria quickly. The decision rattled Washington and the mainstream media. It caused former Defense Secretary Mattis to resign.

Almost a year later, the US has withdrawn only a token number of soldiers. It still has thousands of troops occupying the part of the country where oil fields are located. What is going on here?

David Stockman: Well, that’s the Deep State at work.

Donald Trump is all by his lonesome. He’s home alone in the Oval Office. Now, half of it, he can blame himself. If he hires someone, a known idiot like John Bolton, what does he expect is going to happen except that everything he wanted to do is going to be undermined.

Nevertheless, he can’t seem to find anybody who can articulate on a day-to-day basis a pathway to the more restrained America First posture that he had in mind.

He’s surrounded by people who constantly countermand his orders. You have James Jeffery, the US Ambassador and special envoy to Syria saying, "Well, Trump didn’t mean that when he said he wanted the troops out of Syria."

We have the same thing with North Korea. Trump finally said, here we are, 66 years after the armistice and we still don’t have a peace treaty, and we’re still occupying the Korean peninsula, which is of no interest to our national security one way or the other.

You have to do what I would call "contrafactual history." In other words, if you understand what could have happened the other way, then maybe you’re not going to be so impressed with all this threat inflation.

I go back to why the Korean War happened, because I think it’s important to this whole thing going on now, with Trump trying to make a deal with Kim Jong-un.

In the late ’40s, Washington officials said that Korea is outside our sphere of influence, the line between North and South hastily drawn at the Potsdam war conference in July 1945. Dean Acheson, the US secretary of state in the late 1940s, said it was a mere surveyor’s line; it’s of no strategic influence. What if common sense had prevailed, instead of the hot-headed advice that President Truman got?

What if Truman had said, "Okay, we’re vacating this damn peninsula"? Well, it would have become a quasi-province of China, just like all the rest of them.

They’d probably be making all kinds of stuff, sending it to Walmart today, and nobody would know the difference.

Instead, we had a war. If I remember right, 54,000 servicemen were killed. The whole peninsula was pummeled, carpet bombed, and literally destroyed. It was like a wasteland in the north.

There are reasons why the Kim family has survived all these years, because they hate us for what happened.

People remember. It was really scorched earth. I mean, it was in some sense genocide, even then.

So, all of that happened, and Eisenhower comes in and is astute enough to say that we don’t really have national security on the line. He negotiated an armistice, and yet the War Party kept tension on the DMZ for all those years because it had to be in the playbook of threats.

I remember well when I was fighting the big Reagan defense build-up, back when I was budget director. It was always, we need all these different new tanks and attack aircraft and resupply logistics capabilities, because we have to have the ability to fight two and a half wars.

Well, where was the half war? I knew where the other ones were. The half war was in Korea.

Well, why did we have to have a half war in Korea? But nevertheless, that was part of the rationalization—justification—for this massive military force that really is a tool of empire and not a tool of homeland defense.

Today, we have Trump finally saying, let’s let the Koreans decide how to run the future of Korea—and back off this long-running, 65-year confrontation.

And yet as courageous in some ways as he has been, he’s constantly being undermined by his own people, who as soon as he’s not looking send real nasty messages to the North Koreans—that will only set Kim back on his heels—and therefore nothing gets done. Even though it could very easily be done.

When you have a regime change policy—and this was the one real positive thing Trump brought to the table. He said regime change has failed; we’re not going to do it under my policy.

Why do you think the North Koreans are quasi-starving? And I know the Communist elite and Kim’s family and so forth live a pretty fat life, but nevertheless they’re in dire straits economically.

Why do they invest all this money in developing nuclear capability and missile capability?

Because they don’t want to be regime changed. Kim is a young man, he’s in his mid-30s, and he doesn’t want to be another Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein.

He knows what happens. You get hung on national TV if you’re a Hussein, or you get tortured and drugged behind a Jeep if you’re a Gaddafi.

Obviously, this stuff has consequences. These idiots in Washington and all these think tanks that talk about regime change and bringing democracy to the world and so forth—never even think about the consequence—the message that these violent episodes send—and the unfortunate reaction that people take in order to defend themselves.

International Man: With John Bolton out of the picture, do you see US talks with North Korea bearing fruit for Trump?

David Stockman: I think it’s touch and go.

The problem is there’s lasting damage when you engage in all this regime change over so many years and episodes. They don’t trust you.

Trump has worked very hard, using an odd, idiosyncratic personal diplomacy to build up trust with Kim. It seems to be working, but there are just so many forces at work behind the scenes that are aiming to undermine that trust-building so that nothing happens.

They want to keep 29,000 troops in South Korea, in harm’s way, as a tripwire, so that the North Koreans obey us as we tell them to behave. It’s crazy.

I would give it a 50/50 chance. I know he wants a big victory, a foreign policy win. He’s desperate for one, because not much is happening elsewhere and what he intended to do is being totally undermined.

Maybe there’s a chance that something could happen here, but I am so distrusting of the Deep State machinery and their need for perennial threats.

If you take away the Korean threat, if you recognize the Iranians aren’t a threat, if you see that Russia is a tiny little country that’s not going to invade Western Europe and crash through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and so forth—

All of a sudden somebody is going to do the math as we get into the coming fiscal crisis and say, "We can’t afford all this defense that we don’t need. Let’s cut it back dramatically."

They don’t want this to happen. And so, they have to keep these hot spots burning and these threats maintained or inflated, because they know if the real truth of the world were considered by Congress, the defense budget would be slashed dramatically.

International Man: So far, President Trump has had a very different foreign policy than Candidate Trump. What will happen to Trump’s chances for re-election if he doesn’t make any progress on ending the war in Afghanistan, withdrawing from Syria, and bringing peace to Korea?

David Stockman: I think his re-election is binary.

If the stock market holds up and the economy manages to skirt recession, he’ll be in good shape. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I think the stock market is in its last days of bubble excess. I think the economy is slouching toward recession within a matter of a few quarters or months. If that happens, Trump is toast. Elizabeth Warren becomes president, and then that’ll be a whole new ball game that is hard to figure.

International Man: What kind of role do you see foreign policy playing in the 2020 election?

David Stockman: It won’t be the normal sense of debating policy—where there’s usually the bipartisan duopoly, with nuanced shades of difference that they like to debate and pretend are meaningful.

That isn’t even going to happen this time. Foreign policy has been totally taken over by the Democratic paranoia about Russia and Putin and meddling in our elections.

Now it’s extended to the whole impeachment inquiry and Ukraine-gate. That’s what the whole debate is going to be about. The debate is going to be about a sideshow.

The underlying issues are why we are constantly steaming warships into the Black Sea. That’s like the Gulf of Mexico to Russia.

Why are we sending warships into the Baltic?

Why are we constantly doing big maneuvers in Poland and in the Baltic states, right on Russia’s doorsteps with these tens of thousands of forces going through these maneuvers and exercises? What the hell are we doing all this for?

Those are the issues. But they’re not even going to get debated.

One last point: Trump had raised the question, isn’t NATO obsolete? The Soviet Union is gone. The 50,000 tanks allegedly on the central front facing western Europe have been melted down for scrap. And yet, he can’t even do anything about NATO.

He’s had to double-talk his way into saying, "Well, the other countries are going to commit some more money they don’t have. They’re going to waste more money on defense." That’s all that’s come of it.

The point is we ought to be debating what the hell are we doing with NATO 25 years after the Soviet Union disappeared from the face of the earth?

Why isn’t Washington and the president leading the world with this disarmament conference so that we can begin to reduce this massive expenditure for weapons that nobody can afford?

This is what Washington should be doing. The president of the United States should be leading the great global disarmament conference of 2021, and yet that won’t even come up. It’s not even on the radar screen.

It’s not even mentioned because, as I say, the Warfare State machinery essentially squelches any kind of debate, suffocates any kind of thought that at all deviates from the status quo.

The big issue in the world today is war and peace, and we’re facing a campaign in 2020 where it won’t even be mentioned.

Editor's Note: The amount of money the US government spends on foreign aid, wars, the so-called intelligence community, and other aspects of foreign policy is enormous and ever-growing.

It’s an established trend in motion that is accelerating, and now approaching a breaking point. At the same time, the world is facing a severe crisis on multiple fronts.

Gold is just about the only place to be. Gold tends to do well during periods of turmoil.