Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

UK Pro-Brexit Crowd fears ‘biggest loss of sovereignty’ since 1973

July 11, 2018

Retaining benefits of single market will mean concessions on common rules

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Prime minister Edward Heath, centre, Geoffrey Rippon, left, and Alec Douglas-Home with the European Community accession treaty in 1972 © Getty

By Alex Barker in Brussels JULY 9, 2018 

Is Brexit Britain “truly headed for the status of colony”?

Boris Johnson’s incendiary claim in his resignation letter voiced the anguish of Brexiters who fear leaving the EU may erode Westminster’s decision-making power rather than restore it.

Theresa May’s plan for a softer Brexit would, in their eyes, entail the UK giving up more influence over the substance of some national laws than it did on joining the European Community in 1973.

It is a far cry from the “take back control” promises of the Brexit referendum. In the words of David Davis, the former minister in charge of negotiations, any return of sovereignty may merely be “illusory”.

Mrs May dismisses such claims, insisting her proposals for common rule book with the EU is limited to goods and agricultural products, involves no direct jurisdiction of European judges and, crucially, is dependent on the explicit and continuing consent of the UK parliament.

But to many in Brussels and Whitehall, the UK prime minister’s plan is just the start of a broader policy shift. To pass muster with EU leaders, her vision for Britain continuing to retain the benefits of the customs union and single market will inevitably require additional concessions on rule-taking, covering goods and services.

Sir Ivan Rogers, Mrs May’s former EU ambassador, said that, far from enhancing control, such a model would “result in the biggest loss of UK sovereignty since accession in 1973”.

The problem for Mrs May, he added, is that the main alternative of a Canada-style free trade agreement is one she “finally understands cannot deliver near frictionless trade” and that would carry serious economic costs. “She is therefore caught between two intolerable options,” Sir Ivan said.

What UK resignations mean for May and Brexit

Diplomats in Brussels have long been baffled by what they see as a false Westminster debate over control. For many smaller EU member states, pooling sovereignty in the EU in practice amplified their influence over common rules and common institutions.

Even if Britain broke free of Brussels’ regulatory orbit, EU officials confidently predict the sheer size of the EU market will mean British exporters routinely comply with EU-set standards.

“There is no such thing as a sovereign country any more,” said one EU government official handling Brexit. “It is an illusion the Brits are all chasing, but it has gone.” Another EU Brexit negotiator compared the British political drama to “tilting at windmills”.

Mrs May’s plan for goods is most similar to Norway’s current arrangements inside the European Economic Area. While Oslo is a separate legal jurisdiction from the EU, it accepts the EU’s body of law for the single market, and has institutions that interpret the rules in line with European Court of Justice rulings.

It has an option to reject new EU laws but has never done so for fear of being cut off from markets.

Stephen Weatherill, professor of law at Oxford university, noted that such an outcome for Britain would diminish its existing influence over decision making, exercised through participation in EU institutions and policymaking.

“Almost everybody before the referendum would have said a Norway-style deal is as bad as it gets,” he said. “It does not achieve the regulatory independence Brexiters want, and offers none of the influence [over the EU]. But we are where we are.”

Some veteran Brexiters such as Christopher Booker, a journalist, and Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament, have championed a Norway or Switzerland-style arrangement as a sensible stepping stone for Brexit Britain.

One potential issue is that Britain may not secure even the limited freedoms Norway enjoys.

One EU negotiator noted that Norway’s liberal option to diverge under the EEA agreement would probably never be granted to a big economy such as the UK. “British officials should look at the reality of how the EEA works,” said the official, referring to Oslo’s record of compliance. “Norway is Norway.”

Mr Davis pointed out that there would not only be an economic lock on Britain diverging — the loss of market access — but a political lock. A decision to reject EU laws on goods could trigger a backstop arrangement to prevent a hard border for Northern Ireland that many Tories would see as dividing the UK.

Ulf Sverdrup of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs notes that some of the biggest difficulties for the EEA have not been over policies but the arrangements to manage the relationship.

These involve the decision-making process, dispute settlement and the mechanism for revising common laws. “These are the hardest issues,” he said. “And they are not even covered yet in the UK paper.”

On a day of two resignations from the UK cabinet, Mr Sverdrup emphasised how important it was for Norway to build a wide consensus around its chosen model, which goes beyond one political party.

“Everybody embraced the agreement with the EU and that made it very stable,” he said. “Nobody really like it but it was the best they could find. All these kind of compromises tend to be very stinky.”



Europeans leaders worry Trump wants to fulfill promise to bring American troops home

July 6, 2018

After 18 months of Donald Trump’s “America First” presidency, European leaders meeting with him next week fear the United States may change its traditional course and begin to bring American troops home from the continent.

It comes as nations, especially in Eastern Europe, are lobbying the United States to increase the number of troops on the continent as they worry about combating an increasingly aggressive Russia.

Trump has talked about bringing U.S. troops home from around the globe since he was on the campaign trail espousing a strategy he dubbed “America First” but he has yet to act.

“They are scared to death,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told McClatchy. “They are worried about a very unpredictable president of the United States. They are increasingly worried he is going to do things not based on what’s in the best interest..but based solely on his vision of ‘America First.’ “

The Pentagon is already reviewing the impact of withdrawing some of the 35,000 active-duty American troops in Germany, the Washington Post reported last month.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with President Donald Trump during the Group of 7 summit meeting in La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018. The photo quickly went viral after it was shared on Merkel’s Instagram account. Jesco Denzel German Federal Government via The New York Times

The fate of American troops in Europe are not expected to be on the agenda of the Brussels meeting of NATO — the alliance formed after World War II to counter a Soviet, now Russian, threat — but will loom large, as it comes just before Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

Some worry an unpredictable Trump, at the U.S.-Russia summit, could agree to take the first steps to embolden Russia, such as halting military exercises or agreeing that Crimea, a region of Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2014, belongs to Russia.

Magnus Nordenman, who worked as a defense analyst and a strategic planning consultant for major European defense industry companies, said European allies are “absolutely worried” after hearing Trump disparage allies of the G-7, as well as NATO members’ contributions and seeing him eager to meet Putin as well as North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

“There is element of uncertainty in all this,” said Nordenman, now the director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. “But we all need to take a bit of a breath here…and hope the president is in a good mood when he goes to Brussels.”

A senior administration official with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly did not initially answer the question about possible troop withdrawals on a conference call with reporters. But when asked a second time, the official said Trump is not expected to threaten troop withdrawals in Germany or elsewhere.

Congress is likely to oppose troop withdrawals and could pass legislation to prevent Trump from using money to move the military.

Trump has criticized international alliances and organizations, even the United Nations, and European allies fear he is less committed to their security and NATO as previous U.S. presidents. Last month, he abruptly refused to sign a joint statement with the G-7, the world’s largest economies following a meeting in Canada.

“At a time when the transatlantic relationship between Europe and the U.S. is under a lot of pressure over disagreements on Iran and trade, NATO is really at the core of this relationship and will Trump — by basically criticizing the Europeans and conditioning American support — bring more disunity within the alliance,” said Erik Brattberg, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Europe program who is in touch with a few diplomats who are concerned about Trump’s possible reduction of troops. “It would weaken the alliance and provide new opportunities for countries like Russia to take advantage of that.”

A third of active-duty U.S. military troops overseas — more than 60,000 — are stationed in Europe, including 35,000 in Germany, 12,000 in Italy, 8,500 in the United Kingdom and 3,300 in Spain, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of information from the Defense Manpower Data Center, a statistical arm of the Defense Department. Thousands more rotate into other European countries temporarily.

Many U.S. troops are there to do more than protect those countries. They are strategically located to help in other regions of the world, such as counter Iran or strike the Islamic State.

The Trump administration has been supportive of NATO and European countries at a tactical level — actions generally credited to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It has sent more military equipment, participated in regional exercises, signed new defense agreements with Sweden and Finland and increased the number of Marines in Norway on a rotational basis by 350 and in Poland by a battalion.

Poland, Romania and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been asking the U.S. for additional troops for several years. Poland is willing to spend up to $2 billion to lobby the U.S. to build a permanent military base there, according to a Defense Ministry proposal.

Still, Trump has repeatedly threatened to punish countries if they don’t spend enough on defense, even suggesting the U.S. may not protect them if they don’t pay their fair share. That’s in direct contradiction of NATO’s pledge that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all of them.

“That’s the question: Is the U.S. security conditional?” asked Heather Conley, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs for Bush and is now a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

In June, he sent letters to several allies complaining they are not abiding by a 2014 commitment to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on national defense. Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. ambassador to NATO, said this week that all 29 NATO members are increasing defense spending with 16 of them on track to meet the 2 percent goal.

Daniel DePetris, a military expert as at Defense Priorities, a D.C.-based foreign policy organization focused on a strong military and restrained foreign policy that is in periodic conversations with the Trump administration, said the countries either don’t believe Russia is a real threat to them or that the U.S. will protect them.

“Either they have to step up and do what’s rational based on their economic power or it is appropriate for us to reduce our contingent over there,” he said.

The White House declined to say if and how Trump might punish the countries. “I’m not going to get ahead of any announcement or any action he could potentially take, but as you guys know, he’s shown some frustration there on the financial burden that the United States unfairly is forced to bear, and he wants changes,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters this week.

In recent weeks, Trump suggested withdrawing more than 25,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea after trying to persuade Kim to rid his country of nuclear weapons.

Pentagon leaders canceled military exercises there at Trump’s direction but they quickly reaffirmed the United State’s ‘ironclad commitment’ to defend South Korea.


Trump widens rift with NATO allies ahead of summit

July 4, 2018

Ahead of the Brussels summit, the U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted the leaders of NATO allies in harsh letters, warning that the U.S. is losing patience with their failure to meet security obligations within the alliance, widening the rift between its European allies.

Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO allies for failing to meet a 2014 commitment to spend two percent of GDP on defense by 2024, accusing them of leaving the U.S. to shoulder an unfair burden for defending Europe. Currently, the U.S. accounts for nearly 72 percent of all defense spending in NATO and only three European countries hit the two percent GDP target, Britain, Greece and Estonia. He was reported saying during the G7 summit in Canada earlier this month that NATO is “as bad as NAFTA.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Washington,

However, Germany, which has had tense ties with the U.S. in recent months, has already indicated it will be unable to meet that goal. German defense spending is currently at 1.22 percent, according to the figures released by NATO.

In response, the Trump administration has started evaluating the costs of transferring or withdrawing troops from Germany, where the United States has its biggest contingent outside the country, The Washington Post reported earlier. Among the options under consideration are rep

atriating a large contingent of the approximately 35,000 active duty troops, or a full or partial move of the military personnel from Germany to Poland, according to the Post. Citing anonymous sources, the newspaper stressed that the study was only an internal examination of options at this stage.

“Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model,” Trump said in an individual letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, The New York Times reported.

Trump’s move came after he rattled his G7 allies with blistering rhetoric about their trading relationships with the United States and a series of scathing remarks about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum in response to what he calls unfair trade practices from Europe, Canada, and other allies around the world, who have responded with retaliatory sanctions in kind.

Trump has been complaining about the unfair treatment of international organizations and multilateral agreements. First he withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal three days after his inauguration last January and then wanted NAFTA to be renegotiated. Now, U.S. membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is under question as it could greatly hurt global trade, widening the rift between its European allies.

His decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was another important factor for the deteriorating ties between the U.S. and its European allies. Trump piled pressure on close allies with a threat to sanction European companies that do business with Iran.


Trump Warns NATO Allies to Spend More on Defense

July 3, 2018

President Trump has written sharply worded letters to the leaders of several NATO allies — including Germany, Belgium, Norway and Canada — taking them to task for spending too little on their own defense and warning that the United States is losing patience with what he said was their failure to meet security obligations shared by the alliance.

The letters, sent in June, are the latest sign of acrimony between Mr. Trump and American allies as he heads to a NATO summit meeting next week in Brussels that will be a closely watched test of the president’s commitment to the alliance. Mr. Trump has repeatedly questioned its value and has claimed that its members are taking advantage of the United States.

Mr. Trump’s criticism raised the prospect of another confrontation involving the president and American allies after a blowup by Mr. Trump at the Group of 7 gathering last month in Quebec, and increased concerns that far from projecting solidarity in the face of threats from Russia, the meeting will highlight divisions within the alliance. Such a result could play into the hands of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who is to meet with Mr. Trump in Helsinki, Finland, after the NATO meeting, and whose primary goal is sowing divisions within the alliance.

By  Julie Hirschfeld Davis
The New York Times

President Trump met with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands on Monday in the Oval Office. In letters sent last month, Mr. Trump demanded that NATO allies spend more on their own defense.Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

In his letters, the president hinted that after more than a year of public and private complaints that allies have not done enough to share the burden of collective defense, he may be considering a response, including adjusting the United States’ military presence around the world.

“As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised,” Mr. Trump wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in a particularly pointed letter, according to someone who saw it and shared excerpts with The New York Times. “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. This is no longer sustainable for us.”

“Growing frustration,” Mr. Trump wrote, “is not confined to our executive branch. The United States Congress is concerned, as well.”

The president’s complaint is that many NATO allies are not living up to the commitment they made at their Wales summit meeting in 2014 to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on national defense. American presidents have long complained about the lack of burden-sharing by NATO member countries, but Mr. Trump has taken that criticism much further, claiming that some of the United States’ closest allies are essentially deadbeats who have failed to pay debts to the organization, a fundamental misunderstanding of how it functions.

The Trump administration has already reportedly been analyzing a large-scale withdrawal of American forces from Germany, after Mr. Trump expressed surprise that 35,000 active-duty troops are stationed there and complained that NATO countries were not contributing enough to the alliance.

In the letter, Mr. Trump told Ms. Merkel that Germany also deserves blame for the failure of other NATO countries to spend enough: “Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model.”

In language that is echoed in his letters to the leaders of other countries — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway and Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium — Mr. Trump said he understands the “domestic political pressure” brought to bear by opponents of boosting military expenditures, noting that he has expended “considerable political capital to increase our own military spending.”

“It will, however, become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries do not share NATO’s collective security burden while American soldiers continue to sacrifice their lives overseas or come home gravely wounded,” Mr. Trump wrote to Ms. Merkel.

“As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised,” Mr. Trump wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Credit Clemens Bilan/Epa-Efe, via Rex, via Shutterstock

Mr. Michel reacted tartly last week to the letter, telling reporters at a European Union summit meeting in Brussels that he was “not very impressed” by it, according to a report by Deutsche Welle.

Mr. Trump has long complained about the alliance and routinely grouses that the United States is treated shabbily by multilateral organizations of which it is a member, be it the World Trade Organization or the North Atlantic alliance. But in Europe, the letters to NATO allies have been greeted with some degree of alarm because of their suggestion that Mr. Trump is prepared to impose consequences on the allies — as he has done in an escalating tariff fight with European trading partners — if they do not do what he is asking.

“Trump still seems to think that NATO is like a club that you owe dues to, or some sort of protection racket where the U.S. is doing all the work protecting all these deadbeat Europeans while they’re sitting around on vacation, and now he is suggesting there are consequences,” said Derek Chollet, a former Defense Department official who is the executive vice president for security and defense policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“Europeans have been watching Donald Trump begin to implement his rhetoric on trade in ways that are very combative,” he said, “and they’re starting to contemplate whether he would do this regarding security issues, as well.”

Mr. Trump’s letter to Mr. Trudeau was reported last month by iPolitics in Canada, and the existence of others was reported last week by Foreign Policy. It was not clear precisely how many Mr. Trump wrote, and the White House would not comment on presidential correspondence. But two diplomatic sources said they believed at least a dozen were sent, including to Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter, said that Mr. Trump is committed to the NATO alliance and expects allies to shoulder “their fair share of our common defense burden, and to do more in areas that most affect them.”

John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, said Sunday that it was NATO members who refused to spend more on defense — not the president — who were responsible for undercutting the alliance.

“The president wants a strong NATO,” Mr. Bolton said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If you think Russia’s a threat, ask yourself this question: Why is Germany spending less than 1.2 percent of its G.N.P.? When people talk about undermining the NATO alliance, you should look at those who are carrying out steps that make NATO less effective militarily.”

But for diplomats hoping fervently to avoid another high-profile summit meeting collapse with Mr. Trump as the instigator, the letters were concerning.

“Europeans, like many folks in our Defense Department, think that there are many good things that could come out of this summit if only they can keep it from going off the rails,” Mr. Chollet said. “They are hoping to survive without irreparable damage, and so the fact that you have all these storm clouds surrounding NATO and Trump is really worrisome.”

Mr. Trump’s disparagement of Europe and the alliance has become almost routine, leaving some veteran diplomats aghast. Last week, Jim Melville, the United States ambassador to Estonia, told friends and colleagues that he would resign at the end of this month after more than 30 years in the Foreign Service, in part because of the president’s language.

“For the President to say the E.U. was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go,” Mr. Melville wrote in a Facebook post. He was referring to remarks about Europe that the president made during a rally last week in Fargo, N.D., and comments about NATO that he is reported to have made privately during the Group of 7 gathering.

Still, the president is not alone in demanding more robust military spending by NATO allies.

Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, wrote to Gavin Williamson, the British defense minister, last month saying he was “concerned” that the United Kingdom’s military strength was “at risk of erosion” if it did not increase spending, and warned that France could eclipse Britain as the United States’ “partner of choice” if it did not invest more. A United States official confirmed the contents of Mr. Mattis’s letter, first reported by The Sun.


US imported more seafood in 2017 than any prior year

June 25, 2018

The United States imported more seafood last year than at any point in its history, and the nation’s trade deficit in the sector is growing, federal data show.

The U.S. imported more than 6 billion pounds of seafood valued at more than $21.5 billion in 2017, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees American fisheries. The country exported more than 3.6 billion pounds valued at about $6 billion.

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The widening gap comes at a time when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who heads the federal agency that includes NOAA, has identified reducing the deficit as a priority for the government.

The U.S. is home to major commercial fisheries for species such as Pacific salmon, New England lobster and Alaska pollock, but it imports more than 90 percent of the seafood the public consumes.

Ross and others in U.S. fisheries are looking at new strategies to cut the deficit, including increasing the amount of aquaculture-based farming, said Jennie Lyons, a NOAA spokeswoman.

The U.S. trades in seafood with countries all over the world, and the countries it buys the most from include Canada, China and Chile. Major buyers of U.S. seafood include China, Japan and South Korea.

While U.S. fishermen would love to grow commercial fisheries, it’s important to note that domestic and imported seafood are both important parts of the supply chain and support thousands of American jobs, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute.

He added that the trade imbalance isn’t caused by a lack of fish to catch in U.S. waters, as NOAA announced this spring the number of overfished fish stocks in the country is at an all-time low.

“Our stocks are fished to the maximum sustainable yield. In order to feed Americans, and to feed the raw materials into the jobs that are needed, we have to get it from overseas,” Gibbons said.

Some of the seafood items that American consumers are especially fond of, including tuna, salmon and shrimp, are heavily dependent on foreign imports to make it to U.S. markets and restaurants. Some species, such as lobsters, are caught in the U.S., exported to other countries that have greater processing capacity, and return to the U.S. as imports.

In this way, the U.S. and its trade partners depend on each other to satisfy worldwide demand for seafood products, said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada.

“Our relationship is vital, and it is symbiotic,” he said.

There are also some fish the U.S. has imported more heavily in recent years because domestic stocks have dried up. One example is Atlantic cod, which was once the subject of a huge fishery in New England. That industry has collapsed due to overfishing and environmental changes.

The U.S. imported more than a half billion dollars’ worth of cod in 2017. That number has grown by more than $100 million since 2014, with fish that once came from Massachusetts now coming from places like Iceland and Norway.

Exports of other species, such as lobster, are up because of emerging markets in Asia, said Mike Tourkistas, founder of East Coast Seafood in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Lobster exports have grown by more than $250 million since 2007, driven by growth in China.

“With lobster, we know that we have had some very big years,” Tourkistas said.

The Associated Press

Scientific study finds asylum seekers boosting European economies

June 21, 2018

Asylum seekers moving to Europe have raised their adopted nations’ economic output, lowered unemployment and not placed a burden on public finances, scientists said on Wednesday.

An analysis of economic and migration data for the last three decades found asylum seekers added to gross domestic products and boosted net tax revenues by as much as 1 percent, said a study published in Science Advances by French economists.

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The findings come amid a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, where immigration peaked in 2015 with the arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

An annual report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released on Tuesday showed the global number of refugees grew by a record 2.9 million in 2017 to 25.4 million.

The research from 1985 to 2015 looked at asylum seekers – migrants who demonstrate a fear of persecution in their homeland in order to be resettled in a new country.

“The cliché that international migration is associated with economic ‘burden’ can be dispelled,” wrote the scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Clermont-Auvergne and Paris-Nanterre University.

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The research analyzed data from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Asylum seekers contributed most to a country’s gross domestic product after three to seven years, the research found. They marginally lowered unemployment rates and had a near-zero impact of public finances, it said.

Greece, where the bulk of migrants fleeing civil war in Syria have entered Europe, was not included because fiscal data before 1990 was unavailable, it said.

Chad Sparber, an associate professor of economics at the U.S.-based Colgate University, said the study was a reminder there is no convincing economic case against humanitarian migration.

But he warned against dismissing the views of residents who might personally feel a negative consequence of immigration.

“There are people who do lose or suffer,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Immigration on balance is good,” he said. “But I still recognize that it’s not true for every person.”

Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit


Russia vows consequences after Norway invites more U.S. Marines

June 14, 2018

Russia vowed on Thursday to retaliate for a plan by Norway to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed there.

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Oslo announced on Tuesday that it would ask the United States, its NATO ally, to send 700 Marines to train in Norway from 2019, against 330 at present, and said the additional troops would be based closer to the Russian border.

“This makes Norway less predictable and could cause growing tensions, triggering an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe,” the Russian Embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“We see it as clearly unfriendly, and it will not remain free of consequence.”

Oslo has grown increasingly concerned about Russia since Moscow annexed of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, while adding that it does not regard its much larger neighbor as a direct threat.

The U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave at the end of this year after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway since World War Two.

The initial decision to welcome the Marines had prompted Moscow to say it would worsen bilateral relations and escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Northern Fleet launched a large naval exercise in the Arctic Barents Sea. Later this year, Norway will host its biggest NATO maneuver in decades.

Reporting by Camilla Knudsen and Terje Solsvik; Editing by Kevin Liffey



Norway to invite more U.S. Marines, for longer and closer to Russia

June 12, 2018

Norway will ask the United States to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed in the country in a move that could raise tensions with its eastern neighbor Russia.

The government in Oslo has grown increasingly concerned about Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some 330 U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave Norway at the end of this year after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for fighting in winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway, a member of NATO, since World War Two.

The initial decision to welcome the Marines irked Russia and Moscow said it would worsen bilateral relations and escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told reporters the decision did not constitute the establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Norway and was not targeted at Russia.

U.S. Marines on winter training northern Norway in 2016. Photo: Forsvaret

“There are no American bases on Norwegian soil,” she said, adding the decision had broad parliamentary support.

Oslo will ask Washington to send 700 Marines from 2019, compared with 330 presently. The additional numbers will be based closer to the border with Russia in the Inner Troms region in the Norwegian Arctic, rather than in central Norway.

The rotation of forces will last for a five-year period compared with an initial posting that ran for six months from the start of 2017, and then was extended last June.

In addition the U.S. want to build infrastructure that could accommodate up to four U.S. fighter jets at a base 65 km (40 miles) south of Oslo, as part of a European deterrence initiative launched after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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Marines rehearse various infantry maneuvers in preparation for the tactical phase of arctic-weather training in Norway, Feb. 13, 2016. (Cpl. Immanuel Johnson/Released)

Norway said the expanded invitation was about NATO training and improving winter fighting capability.

“Allies get better at training together,” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told reporters.

Soereide told Reuters in April that Oslo did not see Moscow as a military threat and that the threat of war in the Arctic, NATO’s northern flank, was “low”.

But she said Oslo saw challenges in the way Russia was developing, not only militarily but also in the areas of civil society, the rule of law and democracy.

The Russian embassy in Oslo was not available for comment.

Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Matthew Mpoke Bigg


The race to own Antarctica

May 24, 2018

Competition for natural resources, research and tourism is putting pressure on the cold war-era treaty that guarantees order on the continent

© FT montage / AFP | View of China’s military base in the King George island, in Antarctica.

Leslie Hook in London and Benedict Mander in Buenos Aires

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Antarctica is a continent with no government. The closest thing it has is a drab, 10-person office, with a small sign on its wooden door in Buenos Aires that reads “Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty”. This is the group whose job it is to keep things running smoothly among the 53 nations that together govern Antarctica.

If that sounds like a quixotic system for a continent twice the size of Australia that contains vast untapped natural resources, it is. But the idealism underpinning it is very clear.

“One of the amazing things is that Antarctica is the only continent where people work together for peace and science,” says Jane Francis, head of the British Antarctic Survey, who last week attended the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting that brings all of the nations together. “You wouldn’t believe that 53 nations after two weeks can agree . . . It can be done in this world.”

However, not everyone does agree. And at last week’s meeting in the Argentine capital some of those divisions were on show. There is a growing number of issues that the Antarctic Treaty System, which has kept order on the continent for almost six decades, is struggling to deal with. From climate change to fishing, new geopolitical tests are facing Antarctica that are increasingly difficult for a consensus-based group to address.

“One of the things the treaty system needs is almost like a new kind of vision,” says Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at London’s Royal Holloway University, and an expert on Antarctic governance. “One where parties are explicit about what they are trying to do.”

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China’s base, King George Island, Fildes Bay, Antarctica

The Buenos Aires meeting was typical: it produced a series of agreements that represented relatively low-hanging fruit, such as new rules for drone use, and guidelines for heritage sites (like the hut built by Ernest Shackleton and his team more than 100 years ago).

But the thorniest issues — for example, what happens when countries violate the treaty rules — are almost never addressed. Scientists and diplomats are growing concerned that the existing system will be unable to respond to the new pressures. At stake is the last pristine continent, one that contains the world’s largest store of freshwater, huge potential reserves of oil and gas and the key to understanding how quickly climate change will impact the world through rising sea levels.

“What we are seeing at the moment . . . is almost like a lethargy among the treaty parties to take the necessary steps,” says Daniela Liggett, professor of geography at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury. The last major binding protocol in the treaty system came into force 20 years ago, she adds. Any new protocol must be approved by consensus, so even one dissenting country effectively has veto power.

The greatest areas of tension are those that touch on the growing economic and strategic interests in Antarctica, such as tourism and fishing (mining is banned). Signatories to the treaty, which dates back to 1959, agree to set aside their territorial claims, and use the continent only for peaceful purposes.

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However the growing number of signatories has made the system unwieldy: In 1980 there were just 13 countries that had “consultative” status to make the key decisions on treaty matters — today that number has risen to 29, a diverse group ranging from Finland to Peru, India and Belgium. Meanwhile the number of permanent scientific research stations on the island, a proxy for activity, has grown to more than 75. China has been a particularly enthusiastic builder of new research stations since it joined the treaty in 1983, and the environmental approvals for its latest, a fifth base, have caused division among the treaty members.

“Resources have always been the big trigger,” says Prof Dodds. “Once you get more explicit about resource exploitation, then you raise the troubling issue of who owns Antarctica. That’s the issue that haunts the Antarctic Treaty, and the Treaty System more generally.”

Those anxieties are growing in tandem with Antarctica’s importance. The continent is covered in an ice sheet up to a mile thick and represents a window into how the planet is changing. Temperatures in some parts of Antarctica are rising much faster than the global average, and the pace of glacial melting there will help determine how quickly global sea levels rise in future.

The Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, is becoming a significant fishing ground, as resources in other seas are depleted. And it plays a crucial role in absorbing heat and carbon from the atmosphere, in ways that are not yet fully understood.

“Things have changed profoundly,” says Damon Stanwell-Smith, a marine biologist who first visited Antarctica more than 25 years ago. “It is visible in a human lifetime — the change in coastal waters, ice, retreat of glaciers, and then the related wildlife movement. Nowhere else has it been so obvious.”

A critical factor is the addition of many more visitors. Mr Stanwell-Smith heads the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (Iaato), the closest thing the region has to a tourist police.

The race to understand Antarctica

Last month the association reported that the number of visitors to the region rose to more than 51,000 last season an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year. That number is expected to keep growing. Some 20 new polar expedition vessels are under construction, adding to the 33 already registered with Iaato, to serve the growing interest, says Mr Stanwell-Smith.

For most tourists — who pay between $10,000 and $100,000 for a trip — visiting Antarctica involves stepping off the boat at just a handful of highly regulated landing sites. But there are loopholes in the system, such as private yachts that flout permitting rules, as well as a growing number of tours that involve activities such as kayaking or skiing.

“It’s becoming a bit of an adventure playground, and the trouble is the unregulated tourism,” says Prof Francis, at the British Antarctic Survey. “It has become much easier for people just to sail their yachts to Antarctica, to fly their private aircraft to Antarctica.”

The fastest-growing source of new visitors last year was China, which was second only to the US in the ranking of total tourists. At the same time Beijing is investing heavily in polar missions to Antarctica, part of its plan to become a “polar great power” — moves that have not always been welcome. One idea that has been met with concern is China’s proposal for a special “code of conduct” that would apply for a large area around its Kunlun Station research base, which has been seen as an attempt by China to limit activities near its base.

The construction of China’s fifth research base has also been controversial because preliminary building activities were started before the environmental impact assessment was complete, in violation of protocol. The lack of punishment for these — and similar infractions by other countries — is one of the weaknesses of the treaty system.

China spends more on its Antarctic research programme than any other country, according to Anne-Marie Brady, professor of political science at the University of Canterbury and editor of The Polar Journal. China’s interest is not limited to the potential natural resources available, but also the continent’s strategic importance — having a ground station near the South Pole can increase the accuracy of global satellite navigation systems.

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The US, Russia and China all have critical infrastructure in Antarctica to aid their global positioning systems. “That makes Antarctica very, very interesting right now,” says Prof Brady. She adds that the Antarctic Treaty System may be poorly equipped to respond to a growing “clash of values” in the region.

“There is a lot that is unresolved [in the treaty] and may not be fit for purpose for our current global strategic environment,” she says. “If the Antarctic Treaty is going to be sustainable, there has to be more high-level attention paid by government on how to adjust to the changing environment and how to protect Antarctica.”

The Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration declined a request for an interview.

China and other countries are positioning themselves for a day when the current confines of the Antarctic Treaty System may no longer apply. While it does not technically expire, the provisions on the treaty that ban mining could change after 2048 — the year in which the environment protocol is expected to come up for review.

As the number of signatories has expanded it means there will be far more voices involved in any potential review. “What role do these countries [not among the 12 original signatories of the 1959 treaty] intend on playing? For sure, they have one eye focused on the resources that might be available in the future,” says Máximo Gowland, Argentina’s director for Antarctic foreign policy.

He points out that both water and mineral resources could become an issue. “You don’t know how quickly the situation might evolve,” he says, mentioning the severe water shortages in Cape Town, where the idea of towing an iceberg from Antarctica to South Africa, to ease the crisis, was discussed.

Already the treaty system is struggling to protect resources in the Southern Ocean, where fishing for krill is on the rise. Opposition from China and Russia has repeatedly delayed the creation of new marine protected areas, a topic that will be discussed again at the next meeting in October.

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Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station

Another unresolved issue is bio-prospecting — taking biological samples from Antarctica to study in a lab. Because the species that exist in Antarctica are adapted to extreme cold conditions, they could contain compounds with valuable commercial or pharmaceutical applications. Yet the question of who owns the intellectual property from these samples is impossible to solve, because of the many and varied sovereign claims on the continent.

While there is no indication that anyone is about to take the step of quitting the Treaty System, there is equally little hope that it will be able to reform itself. A risk is that it simply becomes less relevant as it fails to address the challenges facing the continent, says Prof Liggett.

Evan Bloom, the top polar diplomat in the US, which sends the largest number of scientists and tourists to Antarctica each year, says Washington supports the treaty system despite its limitations. “It has worked quite well in terms of setting aside those political differences, and allowing science to occur,” he says.

How much longer that continues to be the case will rely on a fragile treaty that is about to face its greatest tests.

‘Limited friction’: Tradition of co-operation endures on the continent 

The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 at the height of the cold war, was focused on denuclearising the continent and avoiding military conflict, and the 12 original signatories all agreed to set aside any territorial claims there for the duration of the treaty. Subsequent agreements addressed issues like fishing rights and extraction of resources (which is banned), creating a group of deals called the Antarctic Treaty System.

“There are these aspects of the Antarctic Treaty that were unquestionably pioneering,” says Prof Dodds, who describes the treaty as an experiment in human governance.

Eight years after it was signed, it was used as a loose model for the Outer Space Treaty, and is still seen as a template for how to govern areas that fall outside of traditional national boundaries. Today diplomats wonder if it could be a model for the Arctic region, where climate change has opened up new shipping routes and created new sources of tension.

Evan Bloom, the head of the US Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, says that many of the geopolitical tensions in the rest of the world are filtered out in Antarctica. Everyone who endures the South Pole’s harsh climate has to rely on their neighbours to survive.

“Those frictions are relatively limited in part because the tradition of co-operation in Antarctica flows from the way that the science programmes relate to each other,” he says. “If you are running a science camp or a research station in a remote place, you have a real incentive to work with other nearby stations, regardless of their nationality.”

Mr Bloom says occasionally his colleagues at the US state department will ask him whether similar models could be applied in other parts of the world. “Middle East peace negotiators come and say, this Antarctic Treaty System has worked out really well, is there something we can apply,” he says with a laugh.


New F-35 fighter jets to be stationed in eastern Turkey’s Malatya

May 11, 2018

The Turkish Air Forces Command is making last preparations to house new F-35 fighter jets, which will initially be delivered on June 21, Anadolu Agency reported Friday.

Turkish pilots will be flying two fighter jets to Turkey in September next year, after completing necessary training in the United States.

The jets will be refueled by a squirt, which will accompany the pilots during their return journey.

Anadolu Agency also reported that the new F-35 aircrafts would be brought to the 7th Main Jet Base Command located in eastern Turkey’s Malatya province, replacing F-4 fighter jets.

The command is currently constructing new maintenance hangars and modernizing some aircraft shelters. The constructions, which started end of last year, are expected to be finalized in early 2019.

Turkey ordered 100 aircraft, 30 of which were approved. The aircraft ordered by Turkey are reported to have the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variants. STOVL aircraft can take off without needing a long runway and make vertical landings. F-16 pilots currently serving in the Turkish Air Force will be able use the planes after the completion of a six-week training program.

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An F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter takes off on a training sortie at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in this March 6, 2012 file photo. (Reuters Photo)

Apart from Turkey, the U.S., U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark are also present as participant members to the program.

Anadolu Agency and Daily Sabah

Turkey’s cooperation with prime contractor U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin dates back to the 1990s, when it previously purchased F-16 fighter jets. Turkish firms continue cooperation in the areas of system development and drills as part of the F-35 project.

Last month, three U.S. senators moved to block Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets from being delivered to Turkey, voicing concerns that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had embarked on a “path of reckless governance and disregard for the rule of law.”

Ankara slammed the plans to block Turkey’s role in the making of the F-35s. Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Head Volkan Bozkır said that the U.S. has been threatening Turkey with a move regarding the F-35 deal if Turkey purchased S-400 missile defense systems from Russia.

“There cannot be such thing that we will cancel the F-35 planes if you do not buy Patriots. There can be no conditions like ‘we will sell you the Patriots, do not buy the S-400s’ either,” Bozkır said, adding that Turkey can buy defense systems from wherever it sees fit.

Several Turkish firms are involved in producing the fighter jets as part of Turkey’s partner role in the joint program. Turkish firms participating in the F-35 project are expected to make a profit of $12 billion. For instance, Alp Aviation partook in the production of the bodywork and landing gear; Ayesaş supplied the missile remote control interface and panoramic cockpit imaging system; and Fokker Elma produced the electrical cabling and internal connection systems for the F-35s. Moreover, Havelsan provided the training systems for the F-35 jets, while Kale Aviation produced the body structure, connections and landing gear locking systems.

Defense giant ROKETSAN TÜBİTAK SAGE developed the SOM-J standoff missiles to be transported by the F-35s; Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) manufactured production materials, body coatings and provided the integration of air to ground systems; and Turkish defense firm MİKES participated in the production of various parts.