Global Agenda: Split axes

Hurricanes aside, main developments in both geo-political and economic spheres came from anywhere but the US.

Hurricanes aside, in an exceptionally news-heavy week, the main developments in both the geo-political and economic spheres came from just about everywhere other than the US. A convenient way of reviewing some of these developments is by tracking axes. Axes were once technical terms, recognizable to most people from their days in school or university learning math or other disciplines in which graphs are used. However, they have long since made the move to the broader global stage. World War II, it will be recalled, was fought between the Allied powers the good guys, even if they did include Uncle Joe Stalin's USSR and the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. The original axis was that between Hitler and Mussolini, which at least related to countries that formed an axis on a map, but the subsequent inclusion of Japan negated any link with geometry or geography, and left the Axis as a purely geo-political term. The more recent axis US President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" was always an abstract concept. It contained two neighbors, Iraq and Iran, along with a more distant Asian country in this case North Korea. The Iraqi and Iranian regimes represented very different sorts of "evil," while the North Korean case is almost sui generis in terms of the kind of lunacy that the regime represents. The weirdness of the North Korean communist-dynastic-dictatorship explains why everyone was so surprised when, at the very end of the fourth round of six-power talks (including US, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas) on the subject of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Pyonyang made a major concession. It is now possible although far from certain and, given the Koreans' track record of breaking agreements, maybe not even likely that a negotiated solution will be found, whereby the North will eliminate its existing nuclear weapons and its capability to produce more. This would be a very welcome development for the US (and its Asian allies), especially given the steady deterioration under way at the other end of the Axis. The level of violence in Iraq is still rising; worse, it has spread from the Sunni center to the Shi'ite south. It is widely believed that the radical Shi'ite forces in the south are operating under Iranian direction and that the upsurge in violence there is linked to the growing pressure of the EU-3 Britain, France and Germany as well as the US, on Iran to desist from its nuclear efforts. Striking a deal with North Korea could serve as a precedent for a deal with Iran, but the differences between the two countries and regimes are far more obvious than the similarities. In any event, it is clear that the next few months will be critical for both Iraq, where the political process has finally generated a draft constitution to be submitted to a referendum, and Iran, where the Western powers will have to decide whether to take the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN, or to move from diplomatic to economic pressure difficult, when faced with a country raking in windfall revenues from the soaring price of oil or to something even tougher, which will be even more difficult, given the mess in Iraq. The ability of the EU to act coherently in the field of foreign policy has been further diminished by the prospect of prolonged political paralysis in its largest member-state, Germany. Last Sunday's election produced a deadlock so perfect that no-one is quite sure how to move forward or whether a functioning government is possible at all. The one certainty is that economic reform is not going to happen any time soon, so the swelling band of doomsters with regard to the German economy has had a wonderful week of woe-mongering. Interestingly, the markets took the bad news in a relatively restrained manner. The feeling is that companies will continue cleaning up their acts, irrespective of who is in power in Berlin. Germany's old Axis ally, Japan, is now in a quite different situation. Its election produced an overwhelming victory for the pro-reform incumbent prime minister, who is now set to step up the pace and number of reforms and get Japan Inc. back on track after 15 years of slump and deflation. The Japanese stock exchange has been bullish for a long time, but now seems ready to mount a major rally leaving Germany and Italy to flounder in the European mess and the US to wallow in its own growing economic morass. [email protected]