Wednesday. 6/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Michael O’Hanlon

Dangerous ground

Nato’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown what it is capable of doing and why it will endure for decades to come. The 30 member states of the defensive alliance, collectively representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP and over half of global military spending, have banded together in impressive unity. Rather than splintering after the cold war ended, Nato has almost doubled its membership since 1989 and the current crisis increases the odds that Sweden, Finland and other neutral countries will want to join.

But therein lies a problem. While Nato deserves none of the blame for the Ukraine war, which lies entirely with Vladimir Putin and his cronies, the alliance made some strategic mistakes. Most egregiously, after the Bucharest summit of 2008, which Putin attended (pictured), it promised Ukraine and Georgia eventual membership but with no schedule and no interim security guarantees, a point that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, made in a video address on Sunday. In effect, Nato painted a bullseye on these countries’ backs that Putin has since targeted repeatedly.

The West views Nato as a defensive alliance that protects the security of its members. To Russia, however, it is a competitor and the world’s most militarily potent organisation. And though Ukraine is hardly the subordinate or vassal state that Putin seems to want it to be, it is so intertwined with Russia that the prospect of membership was bound to be met with severe resistance.

Putin has reasons for wanting to dominate Ukraine beyond his desire to prevent it from joining Nato. But the West poked the bear by floating Nato membership and now it’s time to walk it back, somehow, without abandoning Ukraine to Russia’s whims. That’s the central challenge for the weeks, months and years to come.

Michael O’Hanlon is the Philip H Knight chair in defence and strategy at the Brookings Institution and author of ‘The Art of War in an Age of Peace: US Grand Strategy and Resolute Restraint’.

Energy / Greece

Power play

Though the EU has agreed to phase out Russian coal in response to atrocities committed in Ukraine, weaning itself off other energy sources supplied by Moscow, such as natural gas, is proving far trickier. One solution could be the creation of a pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean between Israel and Cyprus to supply natural gas to Greece and southeastern Europe. The project would transfer between nine and 12 billion cubic metres of offshore gas a year but a green light is far from certain. Alongside questions over its commercial viability, there are concerns that another gas pipeline could fall foul of EU goals to cut carbon emissions. A small loophole could yet push it over the line: its geography. Cyprus and Malta are exempt from a ban on new natural-gas projects, as a result of the energy-supply difficulties that come with being island nations. With the need to find alternative energy sources to Russia growing by the day, this is one loophole that Europe might be comfortable keeping.

Politics / Brazil

Crossing the floor

It’s usually considered a major upset when lawmakers switch political parties but not in Brazil, where the make-up of its Congress looks significantly different this week. On Friday, the last day that lawmakers could change parties before October’s federal elections, a staggering 122 out of 513 MPs did so. This figure could rise further, since lawmakers aren’t obliged to reveal their defections immediately. Despite Brazil’s increasing polarisation, many parties exhibit rather pliable ideological convictions, based on the concept of fisiologismo: many will back different governments in exchange for financial support. (It’s no wonder that corruption remains a serious problem here.)

Among the biggest winners of this round of defections was the Partido Liberal party of president Jair Bolsonaro (pictured, centre right), which is now the largest in Congress with more than 70 MPs. Still, whoever wins the next election will have more than 20 political parties in Congress to contend with; a tricky mix that makes governing a daunting prospect.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / USA

More than words

As we reach the halfway point of this year’s US National Library Week, it’s hard to ignore that libraries are increasingly embattled. Underfunded by successive governments, they are now reliant on donations and grants – and they have become battlegrounds in a culture war that seems more absurd with every skirmish. According to the State of America’s Libraries Report, published this week by the American Library Association (ALA), attempts to ban books from their shelves are at their highest level, affecting nearly 1,600 titles largely related to sexual identity or race. The ALA highlights the wider contributions of libraries; National Library Week’s theme this year is their use as places to access digital technology. But at the heart of the report is the notion that books help readers “reach across boundaries and build connections”. TS Eliot once supposedly said that “the very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”. Let’s hope he was right.

Image: Alamy

F&B / UK

The chips are down

It’s crunch time for crisp manufacturers as sunflower oil shortages have led to rationing of an ingredient essential to the snack’s production. Russia and Ukraine together provide 80 per cent of the world’s sunflower oil supply and the conflict between the two has severely curtailed exports. As with other oils, supply chain strains and labour shortages were already affecting production but the invasion of Ukraine has acted like sunflower-scented rocket fuel for these challenges.

Countries in southern Europe that use the oil in everyday cooking, such as Spain and Greece, have already had to ration its sale in supermarkets. In northern Europe, especially the UK, it is mostly used to make fried snacks. The UK consumes more crisps than the rest of Europe combined – about six billion packets a year (that’s an average of 150 packets per person) – and manufacturers are already discussing alternatives, such as rapeseed oil, or even limiting sales. For many Britons, the latter would be a rigid pill to swallow.

Image: Alamy

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories: Bonus Facciate, Milan

Ed Stocker examines Milan’s recent obsession with building renovations and the tax incentives behind it.

Monocle Films / Turin

The new urban rowers

We wake up bright and early to meet creative director Luca Ballarini at the Circolo Canottieri Caprera, a rowing club on the banks of the river Po in Turin. We follow his slender boat and glide along the river beside charming palazzi, castles and bridges, while the rest of the city comes to life.

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