The hand-painted matryoshka doll that separates into ever smaller components is more than a tourist cliché for visitors to Moscow. It is also the design principle of a daunting weapon in the new battle zone of outer space.
The Russian satellite Kosmos 2542, launched last November, gave birth to a sub-satellite, Kosmos 2543. Baby Kosmos started to stalk an American spy satellite. Then, last month, 2543 released a high-speed projectile in what appeared to the United States and Britain to be something like a weapons test.
The Kremlin says that these manoeuvres are all about inspecting damage to Russia’s space fleet.… Seguir leyendo »
The Three-Body Problem, by the Chinese science fiction writer Liu Cixin, is about as far out of my literary comfort zone as it’s possible to get. Alien invasions and virtual reality computer games underpinned by theoretical physics and quantum mechanics do not often feature in Jane Austen or Hilary Mantel. But when a friend gave me a copy of the book, I was gripped. It is a fantastical story that gives a fascinating insight into the clash of civilisations between China and the West.
Liu’s novel — the first part of a trilogy — is based on an apocalyptic struggle for supremacy between two rival powers.… Seguir leyendo »
It is worth keeping this illusion in mind, I think, when considering the activities of Russia and, for that matter, China.
On the surface, these nations seem engaged in conventional subterfuge and foreign influence. The Russian activity investigated by the intelligence select committee, for instance, was partly about electoral manipulation, influencing democratic votes to tilt policy in its favour. Or take China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), an attempt to build large projects in foreign nations, thus deepening the soft power of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC).
Look at the picture a little longer, however, and it starts to morph. It is not that the analysis of the select committee is flawed, or its facts wrong.… Seguir leyendo »
Aphrodite rose gracefully out of the waters of the eastern Mediterranean and its Nereids guided sailors in distress. How did this sea, cradle of so many civilisations, end up as a military flashpoint? This year its eastern shores could become Europe’s equivalent of the South China Sea, bristling with great power tension, or a model for co-operation. I would like to believe the latter but it is going to require a leap of faith in the ability of hard-nosed autocrats to give ground and in terrorist groups to show restraint. That’s a stretch.
Let’s start with the positive. The discovery of large undersea hydrocarbon reserves is giving shape to a new regional constellation: Egypt and Cyprus, Israel and Greece.… Seguir leyendo »
‘Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!” The instructions to the Delta team in pursuit of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were probably less direct than that of the Mexican crime lord in the Sam Peckinpah splatter movie but there’s little doubt that it was effectively an American hit job. In the end, the trapped leader of the Islamic State death cult blew himself up, sparing the need for an awkward debate about the ethics of targeted assassinations.
The problem, though, is that most modern terror organisations cannot be decapitated. When Osama bin Laden was eventually run to ground in Pakistan in 2011, a cache of porn and works by Noam Chomsky on the bookshelves of his hideout, it became clear he had become largely irrelevant to the daily proceedings of al-Qaeda.… Seguir leyendo »
How did the irony escape us? I predicted on this page almost two months ago that while we were obsessing about Theresa May “running down the clock” on MPs, another was ticking: Brussels was running down the clock on us. And this week Britain was finally cornered into a humiliating six-month extension during which we’ve had to promise not to misuse our voting rights as a member of the European Union.
So here’s the second irony, also still escaping us. The limbo in which we now sit until November, and which everyone calls humiliating, is a trial run for a Brino (Brexit in name only) Brexit.… Seguir leyendo »
The armies are massing, the war drums are thrumming, Nigel Farage and Tony Blair stand mouthing Gladiator-style pep talks in the mirror before the battle to come. Increasingly it feels as though another referendum is on the horizon. The hoped-for delay to Brexit points to a second vote. Changing demographics point to a second vote. Parliament’s most popular option has been a second vote. If that second vote comes, Remain must be ready to remedy the mistake made last time around: leaving all the patriotic tunes to Leave.
For more than three years Brexiteers have employed the language of patriotism very effectively.… Seguir leyendo »
A famous, if apocryphal, story is told of the French statesman Georges Clemenceau negotiating to buy a statuette in a bazaar. The shopkeeper offered it for “only” 75 rupees, while the Frenchman counteroffered with 45 rupees. After that, no matter the haggling, he refused to move. And there they were. Stuck.
Eventually the shopkeeper threw up his hands and said: “You are impossible! I’d rather give it to you.” Clemenceau smiled, pocketed the statuette and said: “Done.” And then he added: “You are very kind, and such a kindness could only come from a friend. Allow me to offer you a gift in return.… Seguir leyendo »
Brexit fatigue: a condition in which you weep uncontrollably at the sight of members of the ERG; start twitching at the mention of meaningful votes; suffer hallucinations that you are being strangled slowly by one of Theresa May’s chunky necklaces while a waxen Michel Barnier recites the text of Article 50 like the last rites.
Goodness, we are bored with it. Bored, exhausted, sick to the back teeth. Louder grow the voices arguing that we simply need a resolution, whatever that may be. Last week various figures speaking for business said that we needed to crack on and do something — anything.… Seguir leyendo »
In an attempt to distance myself from our Brexit insanities I am deep in Africa. My hope was to stand a little back, take a calmer and less partisan view.
Some hope. With distance, anger only grows. The further you travel the stupider this Brexit thing looks. People here, whose world of cyclones and cassava-harvests barely touches ours, have heard there’s a bad business going on in Britain. In any satellite’s heat-map of hotspots of human lunacy, the United Kingdom blushes crimson from outer space.
Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, shorn of even a hint of what might come after, failed to clear the Commons yesterday.… Seguir leyendo »
Speculation about whether Brexit will or will not happen has entered the realms of tea-leaf fortune-telling, which I shall not venture upon. Instead, I have been musing upon how, as a nation, we have come so close to committing what some of us regard as the gravest national folly of our lifetimes.
The most obvious reason is that the Devil has the best tunes. The obsessives seeking to quit Europe have sung their siren songs with a close harmony wholly absent from our side. This is partly because they forswear the smallest responsibility for making the unworkable work: several quit government rather than be caught by cameras at the wheel in a head-on collision with reality.… Seguir leyendo »
Political history is full of surprises and we may be on the brink of another. It may be that all the effort required to understand Labour’s stance on a second referendum, the blizzard of parliamentary amendments and the varied proposals for Brexit delay are all beside the point. The point is now on the horizon and, if you squint a little, you can glimpse the distant sign of a deal passing. Not many in the political class are ready for the surprise that may be with them before long.
Brexit is the subject that it is impossible to keep in proportion.… Seguir leyendo »
In the summer of 2014 the world’s TV audiences were stunned by pictures of Yazidi families being rescued from Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. We saw coalition air forces dropping food and the Kurdish PKK saving families after they had been mercilessly attacked by Isis and were fleeing for their lives across the mountains. The men were escaping execution; the women, rape and sexual slavery.
The heroics continued as camps were quickly built to accommodate the Yazidi escapees. In capital cities around the world and at the United Nations, good men and women made inspiring statements about standing with the Yazidi people and protecting them from genocide.… Seguir leyendo »
Who’s running down the clock on whom? As we British squabble noisily, variously berating or congratulating our politicians for “running down the clock” on each other or on Brussels, there’s a stranger in the background, observing silently. The hint of a sardonic (you could almost call it Gallic) smile plays upon his lips.
To his silence in a moment. But first to the British noise. Remainers and some Leavers (plus Labour) squawk that Theresa May is running down the clock on MPs, forever postponing high noon until it’s too late for parliament to choose between anything but her deal and “crashing out” of the European Union without any deal.… Seguir leyendo »
There are times when MPs must follow their consciences. In the Norway debate of 1940, the Commons changed the course of history and forced the departure of the prime minister Neville Chamberlain after Winston Churchill told MPs: “Let us keep our hatreds for the common enemy. Let party interest be ignored.” More recently, Robin Cook won an unprecedented standing ovation during the Iraq debate, with a spine-tingling resignation speech in which he declared he could not back “a war without international agreement or domestic support”.
The House of Commons “meaningful vote” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal is just such a moment.… Seguir leyendo »
It’s odd isn’t it? We’ve had all that discussion about “crashing out” of the European Union on “WTO terms”. Yet we’ve heard very little about the World Trade Organisation itself, how it makes its rules and whether they can be enforced. Isn’t it about time we did?
For it seems almost entirely to have escaped political attention that, just at the moment we are contemplating relying on it, the WTO faces a political crisis. It is already unable to make rulings on some of the cases before it. Before this year is out, it may be unable to make any rulings at all.… Seguir leyendo »
Labour is a party of Remainers led by Brexiteers. More than two thirds of the party’s voters wanted to stay in the European Union, the majority of trade unions backed a Remain vote and 86 per cent of Labour activists want a second referendum. But Jeremy Corbyn himself is a Eurosceptic of long vintage who backed Remain in 2016 for two reasons: the first was that he feared a Leave victory would trigger the end of his leadership, and the second was that the left-wing economist and former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis convinced him that Brexit would lead to the break-up of the EU and a worse deal for the nations of the EU periphery.… Seguir leyendo »
An ennui hangs over British politics and the prime minister is depending on it. Like a thin, wearisome fog it does not quite obscure but it blurs and greys, softening edges and dulling our reactions as we head into the new year. Brexit? Oh, for God’s sake. Haven’t we done enough of that?
No we have not. These very few weeks ahead, these weeks when change is still possible, await, still fluid, before everything fixes. Yesterday I watched a grim little video from the Home Office telling EU citizens legally resident here that they will have to make a new application to confirm their status.… Seguir leyendo »
To the left of the altar of St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street is a tableau, a commemoration of journalists who have suffered in the exercise of their duty. That might sound a somewhat portentous way of describing the trade but it has never been more vital or more dangerous. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 34 have been killed so far in 2018 in retaliation for their work, double the previous year.
The montage in the church remembers the courage of journalists over many years. Some murders dominate the headlines, such as that of the Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in 2006 for revealing too much about the war in Chechnya, or most recently the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.… Seguir leyendo »
Here’s a sentence I was not expecting to write: “I agree with Iain Martin.” On these pages yesterday, my Times colleague argued that if it comes to a “no-deal” Brexit, “we’ll need MPs and ministers to stay calm”; in which case, Iain says, the world will continue in its orbit.
He’s right. Remainers like myself are in danger of repeating the mistake we made before the last referendum: running around like Chicken Licken, only to find that the sky never did fall in. Our country’s possible futures do not, at least at the outset, look to me very different from each other.… Seguir leyendo »