BY SHASHI MALLA
Nepali communists on Venezuela
The Nepali Communists led by Co-Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal is insisting on taking a stand on the developments in far-off Venezuela – much to the chagrin of the US embassy in Kathmandu. Dahal reiterated that his previous statement and that of the government were indeed “official statements” of Nepal on the ongoing Venezuelan crisis. Earlier, Dahal had criticized the United States and its allies for “intervention in the internal affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with the intention of increasing the violence by dividing people and challenging democracy, sovereignty and peace.” US officials have termed the statement “unfair”, “ill-advised” and something that “does not serve Nepal’s interests”. Dahal’s statement does make Nepal look like a diehard ‘Communist state’, when the overwhelming majority of states and international institutions have come out in favor of a democratic transition. The current president Maduro is nothing more and nothing less than a “legitimate autocrat”.
The statement of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and government loses credence because of their continued poor governance. The prime minister KPS Oli claims that there are harmonious relations in the federal structure – between the three layers of government at the centre, provincial [state] and local levels. In fact there is a widening gulf and the whole system has reached bursting point because of administrative and financial constraints. It seems that a federal system is unworkable in Nepal. Then comes Oli and makes one of his outlandish claims; ‘the world is astounded by our achievements’ [!] So much so that next month’s Nepal Investment Summit is definitely going to be a flop. The US – one of the major potential sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) – has said pointedly that the government must execute necessary measures to bring reforms in laws, policies, procedures and corrupt practices that continue to hamper investment before hosting such a summit. Ideological grandstanding is not the way forward.
In the meantime, a sea of protesters poured onto the streets of the capital Caracas last Saturday to back opposition leader Juan Guaido’s calls for early elections. International pressure was mounting daily on President Nicolas Maduro to step down. His utterly corrupt and tyrannical regime hangs by a thread and this is being held by the all-powerful military.
Maduro, after all, has presided over the oil-rich country’s economic, political and social collapse and is widely denounced as a dictator – internally and internationally – for ruthlessly cracking down on dissent amid chronic shortages of essential food and medicines.
Gaido, 35, is slowly but certainly coming closer to force the socialist/communist autocrat from ruthless power so that he can set up a transitional government and hold new presidential elections. Maduro’s main military support is eroding with a top general defecting.
The European parliament has already recognized Guaido as the interim head of state and four major European powers – the UK, France, Germany and Spain, as well as many others have followed. Except for Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, Maduro has no support in Latin America. China, Venezuela’s main creditor is already wavering. The Chinese foreign ministry stated significantly that cooperation between the two countries would continue “no matter how the situation [in Venezuela] changes” [!] Dahal, Oli and the entire NCP stand out like sore thumbs and have become irrelevant ideologically.
These diehard Nepali Communists may remain obstinate, but the Venezuelan stand-off is no longer only a domestic crisis, but an international matter. As the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt succinctly put it: “The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end.” Juan Guaido intends to start pumping international humanitarian aid into Venezuela from three points – Columbia, Brazil and the Caribbean – this week. The moment of truth will then have arrived for the military and also a potential make-or-break situation for a movement that has inspired hope for millions.
There is also the possibility of last resort. Instead of an unilateral US military intervention – the worst of all possible scenarios – the Venezuela crisis could be ‘internationalized’. Since the UN Security Council is hopelessly blocked and stalemated, an enterprising UN Secretary General (Antonio Guterres) could motivate the UN General Assembly in voting overwhelmingly to take necessary action, if necessary in the use of force “ for the maintenance of international peace and security” (UN Charter). For this, the international constellation is currently indeed favourable.
US Withdraws from yet another Treaty
The United States announced last Friday that it would exit a landmark Cold War bilateral nuclear missile treaty due to alleged violations by Russia (the only other signatory). The US claimed that anew Russian medium-range missile system breaches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) . It was suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty as of Saturday and immediately started the process of withdrawal to be completed in six months. Secretary of State (SoS) Mike Pompeo said the US, which formally announced its concerns two months ago, had raised the purported treaty violation with Russia more than 30 times. The US had “fully adhered to the INF Treaty for more than 30 years” but would not “remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions.”
The INF Treaty was signed by then US President Ronald Reagan and the last leader of the Soviet Union (USSR), Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres and ended a dangerous build-up of warheads in Europe.
SoS Pompeo further insisted: “Russia’s violation puts millions of Europeans and Americans at risk, it aims to put the United States at a military disadvantage and it undercuts the chances of moving our bilateral relationship in a better direction.” However, the US was still willing to talk to Russia in hopes that it comes into compliance.
President Vladimir Putin reacted on Saturday by suspending its participation in the Cold War-era missile treaty in a mirror response to the US move the day before. Moscow and Washington have long accused the other of violating the INF agreement. During a televised meeting together with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and defence minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin said that Russia would no longer initiate talks with the US on disarmament: “We will wait until our partners have matured enough to conduct an equal, meaningful dialogue with us on this important topic.”
Putin meanwhile said Russia would seek to develop medium-range missiles in response to what he said were similar projects in the US. He had previously warned of the proliferation of weapons but on Saturday told the ministers Russia would “not be drawn into costly new arms race.” Russia would only deploy intermediate- and short-range missiles in Europe or elsewhere in answer to similar moves from the US, he added.
US Congress’ Take
Democrats in Congress and some arms control advocates criticized the Trump administration’s decision as opening the door to an arms race.”The US threat to terminate the treaty will not bring Russia back into compliance and could unleash a dangerous and costly new missile competition between the United States and Russia in Europe and beyond,” the private Arms Control Association said.
Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat and new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, reprimanded Trump for raising the risk of nuclear war. “The administration’s ideological aversion to arms control as a tool for advancing national security is endangering our safety, as well as that of our allies and partners,” Smith said.
European & NATO Outlook
European leaders have voiced fears over the consequences of the treaty’s demise and called on Russia to address concerns before the US formally leaves in August.
NATO said in a statement that the US allies “fully support” the withdrawal and agreed that Russia’s 9 M 729 ground launched cruise missile systems whose range is the cause of US concerns, violated the treaty.
However, European Union leaders are concerned that the US withdrawal from the INF treaty could spark a new arms race. They hope that the US and Russia resume talks. According to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle the collapse of the INF would be a disastrous gamble and does not bode well for the future – and especially not for peace in Europe.
China is also part of the equation in the US withdrawal. Washington has an eye on China as the INF pact restricts the United States, but not the rising Asian power, perceived by the US establishment as an economic and geo-strategic threat.
US officials say that some 95 percent of China’s ballistic and cruise missiles – a core part of China’s defense strategy – would violate the INF treaty if China were party to it. However, China’s foreign ministry ruled out the possibility of negotiating a new multilateral pact that includes Beijing.
China also said it opposes the US decision to withdraw from the landmark nuclear missile treaty and urged Washington and Moscow to hold ‘constructive’ discussions. The Chinese foreign ministry warned that the US decision could trigger “a series of negative consequences”, echoing warnings by both Russia and Europe that the pull out might lead to a new arms race.
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