Wednesday. 24/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Stronger together

It was first suggested by Joe Biden’s victory but US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s (pictured) visit to Brussels yesterday confirmed it: we have entered a new era for the Nato military alliance. During Blinken’s appearance at a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting – his first visit to the organisation’s HQ – he pledged his country’s commitment. “The United States wants to rebuild our partnerships, first and foremost with our Nato allies,” he said. “We want to revitalise the alliance.”

It’s a marked change of rhetoric and tone following four years of Donald Trump denigrating Nato, branding it “obsolete” and throwing the nation’s commitment into question among European allies. That, together with French president Emmanuel Macron’s declaration that Nato was “braindead” and dogged push for a “real European army” (which has seen little progress), contributed to a period of uncertainty.

Even in the face of disquiet, many allies remained steadfast in their commitment to Nato. Almost every member has continued to increase its defence spending, as part of a 2014 agreement with the alliance (though a number of them still fall short of the pledged 2 per cent of GDP). Many will now view the shift in the US’s approach as vindication and it’s also a boon for Nato’s leadership. Indeed, its secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told me in a recent interview for Monocle’s forthcoming May issue that Biden’s strong support was welcome and he “look[s] forward to continuing to work with him”.

It’s not just Nato’s defenders who should be relieved but also Americans. As the global balance of power continues to shift – as China’s continued rise meets a world reeling from a pandemic – the US simply isn’t equipped to stand alone against adversaries. Nato isn’t perfect but the fact that the US president is publicly recognising that there’s strength in numbers is a move toward stability.

For more analysis of Antony Blinken’s visit to Brussels, listen to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Conflicts / Yemen

Acts of war

It’s been six years since Saudi Arabia launched its intervention into the brutal civil war in neighbouring Yemen. It was supposed to be a short, sharp shock to bring the country’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels to heel but it has degenerated steadily into a long, slow slog. Now the kingdom’s foreign ministry is proposing a nationwide ceasefire but the Houthis are accusing them of launching a PR exercise and say there’s nothing new about the proposal. “They’re not entirely wrong about that,” Iona Craig, a journalist who has lived and worked in Yemen, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “There’s a sense of déjà vu. This is a proposal that was put together a year ago under a UN initiative but is now being rehashed. The Saudis are trying to make the Houthis look like the bad guys if they refuse.” Ceasefires are all well and good, but only if there’s a real commitment to end the violence behind them.

Migration / USA

Crossing a line

Back in the time of Donald Trump’s presidency the message to migrants was cold but simple: don’t come to the US border and don’t expect to get in. For Joe Biden, who has repeatedly promised more humane treatment of asylum seekers and others attempting entry, the messaging becomes far more complicated.

US homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has repeatedly insisted in the past week that “the border is not open”. But his pledges to treat unaccompanied minors humanely has led to a surge in families sending their children – which, somewhat ironically, has made sensitive treatment of them harder as border officials are swamped. A more humane approach is welcome but extreme swings in policy need careful planning. If the Biden administration did not ever intend fully to open the border, then it ought to have been far more careful with its rhetoric.

Aviation / Sweden

Clearing the air

Sweden’s government this week said that it plans to change the way takeoff and landing fees at Stockholm’s Arlanda (pictured) and Gothenburg’s Landvetter airports are calculated. The costs will be based on each plane’s emissions, rewarding flights with less climate impact and charging high polluters more. The aim of the plan is to incentivise airline companies to use more biofuels and to upgrade their fleets to include new, more fuel-efficient models. It’s been estimated that before the pandemic, flights taken by Swedes generated the same levels of carbon emissions as all the country’s cars combined. The government is still fine-tuning the system, which is due to come into force in July. It’s a good moment to rethink how aviation works but Sweden should be careful not to place an unreasonable burden on carriers already fighting for their survival. Might we suggest that long-haul flights get a discount too? After all, it’s the short hops that can be most easily replaced by rail and other clean alternatives.

F*&*B / UK

Trading places

Newly released figures this week showed that food and drink exports from the UK to the EU fell by more than 75 per cent in January after the end of the Brexit transition period. It’s far from simply being a pandemic-induced loss: exports to non-EU countries only fell 11 per cent in the same period. Fish, meat and dairy exports to the EU were hardest hit, with salmon falling by 98 per cent. But the red-tape nightmare has resulted in some unlikely beneficiaries: Morocco’s fruit and vegetable exports to the UK increased by 51 per cent in the same period. The UK also recently confirmed a new direct shipping link from Tangier to the southern coastal town of Poole that will halve the travelling time between the two countries, making North Africa an increasingly viable trading partner for food and drink. It’s an undoubtedly positive step for Morocco but one that the UK will have to replicate with many other countries to fill that EU-shaped hole.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 249: The Beirut River, Lebanon

Adib Dada explains a unique planting method that is turning a plot of land on the banks of the Beirut River into what’s now known as Beirut’s Riverless Forest.

Film / Global

Healthy cities: vim and vigour

Across the world governments and developers are waking up to the fact that healthier cities are happier ones. We touch down in three very different destinations to admire some of the best urban design initiatives.

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