Trump Urges NATO to Double Military Spending Target to 4% of GDP

President Donald Trump pressured allies at the NATO summit Wednesday to double the military spending target to 4% of gross domestic product, while bashing Germany for its military spending and support for a major gas deal with Russia.

.. Mr. Trump began his visit by accusing Germany of being “captive to Russia” because of its support for Nord Stream 2, an offshore pipeline that would bring gas directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea.

Speaking in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Trump called Germany’s support for the project “very sad,” and said, “We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia.”

..  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said, “President Trump’s brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment.”

.. He has met frequent criticism in Washington for appearing overly friendly toward Mr. Putin, including when he congratulated the Russian leader on his election victory earlier this year despite being advised by national security officials not to do so.

.. Germany is the biggest importer of natural gas from Russia in the EU, accounting for more than 20% of the purchases in 2017 by the 28-member bloc, according to the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat. Russian imports made up about 40% of Germany’s annual gas purchases for the past two years.

Trump’s Retreat From the West

Mr. Trump seems to have followed a blueprint for a resolution to the Korean conflict that China and Russia proposed a year before.

“The idea is to ensure a double freeze,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said in an interview with NBC in Moscow on July 21, 2017. “North Korea suspends all their launches and tests, and in response, the U.S. and South Korea reduce the scale of their war maneuvers in the region.”

But all the meeting really accomplished was to open the prospect of new and probably lengthy negotiations for a final peace on the peninsula. Achieving that will depend on how the interests of five countries — North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia and the United States — can all be served.

North Korea and South Korea were created when World War II ended with Soviet troops occupying the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and American troops the south. After North Korea invaded the South in 1950, only to be driven back to China’s border by American-led forces, the fighting didn’t stop until after Chinese troops poured in and restored Communist control in the North.

.. A person of Mr. Putin’s age and experience cannot help seeing in Korea a likeness to a divided Germany. Having served in East Germany as a K.G.B. officer, Mr. Putin was deeply dismayed at the Soviet Union’s decision nearly three decades ago to give up control of what had been the Communists’ East Bloc. Today, his most powerful narrative of grievance is of the West expanding its institutions — especially NATO — to Russia’s western border. He would surely be loath to see the West achieve a matching situation at its eastern door.

..  Mr. Putin, speaking to Chinese reporters in Qingdao, called Mr. Trump’s decision to meet Mr. Kim “very brave and mature.”
.. It is likely that without Mr. Xi’s nod, Mr. Kim would not have met with Mr. Trump. And China may have kept its distance and let the American president steal the spotlight, hoping that a peaceful North Korea colonized by Chinese, Russian and American businesses might emerge and make an American military presence on the peninsula irrelevant
.. Mr. Trump’s foreign policy vision ignores concerns about other countries’ political structures as long as a deal can be reached. He clearly prefers bilateral deals to multilateral accords. He enjoys politics that are personal rather than institutional.

The American president is stirring up trouble in a volatile oil market

If he cannot arm-twist OPEC, he may unleash America’s Special Petroleum Reserve

.. markets are being buffeted by three countervailing forces unleashed by President Donald Trump:
  1. his geopolitical agenda, particularly sanctions on Iran;
  2. his domestic political agenda, to lower American petrol prices before the mid-term elections; and
  3. his looming trade war with China.

If he does not get his way, he may have a dangerous weapon up his sleeve—America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). His meddling risks making OPEC, the oil cartel that is a focus of his wrath, look like a paragon of predictability.

.. adding fuel to the price rally is the Trump administration’s pressure on America’s allies to cut oil imports from Iran to zero by November 4th, or face punishment for violating American sanctions. This is more draconian than expected.

.. on July 2nd that more than 50 international firms, including energy ones, had agreed to pull out of Iran. Though America may allow some countries—possibly Turkey, France and others—to reduce imports rather than cut them completely, it will not grant any waivers.

.. a “zero-barrel” response could see between 800,000 and 1.05m b/d of Iranian crude come off the market, with the squeeze starting in September, 60 days of shipping time before the sanctions kick in.

.. In an interview on Fox TV aired on July 1st, he ordered OPEC to stop manipulating the market, threatening some of its members with the loss of American protection if they do not.

.. the highest level of production Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, has tried out for any length of time is 11m b/d (it is about 10.3m b/d at the moment). But keeping production at that level for several months would damage its reservoirs. Pumping 12m b/d would also take spare capacity in the global oil market to uncharted lows, exposing it dangerously to supply shocks.

.. Complicating things is the imminent risk of an America-China trade war. China has threatened tariffs on American oil imports if retaliation meets more retaliation.

.. China may pay no heed to American sanctions on Iran, which would further stoke tension between the two.

.. These factors, some bullish for oil prices, some bearish, may offset each other. But they have already had the unfortunate consequence of putting Mr Trump alongside the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Russia in the driving seat of global oil policy. Shale producers, who cannot respond to price signals anything like quickly enough to please Mr Trump, are sidelined

.. Analysts predict that if petrol prices continue to rise ahead of the mid-terms, Mr Trump will use a release of up to 30m barrels from the SPR to flood the market. That would be tantamount to launching an oil war against OPEC and Russia, in addition to the trade war. But it cannot be ruled out.

The Great Russian Disinformation Campaign

In a new book, Timothy Snyder explains how Russia revolutionized information warfare—and presages its consequences for democracies in Europe and the United States.

When Westerners first began to hear of Vladimir Putin’s troll army—now some five years ago—the project sounded absurd. President Obama in March 2014 had dismissed Russia as merely a weak “regional power.” And Putin’s plan to strike back was to hire himself a bunch of internet commenters? Seriously?

.. historian Timothy Snyder observed that Russia’s annual budget for cyberwarfare is less than the price of a single American F-35 jet. Snyder challenged his audience to consider: Which weapon has done more to shape world events?

.. Amid the collapse of the Soviet state, canny survivors of the old regime seized valuable assets. Yeltsin secured their new wealth; they secured Yeltsin’s power.
..  Yeltsin elevated Putin as his deputy, then resigned in his favor. Putin faced the electorate in 2000 supported by all the power and money commanded by a Russian incumbent. Public opinion was consolidated by a conveniently timed series of murderous terrorist bombings. Number Snyder among those Western experts who strongly suspect that the bombings were organized by the Russian authorities themselves to legitimate Putin’s accession.
.. He promoted ideologies that Snyder inventively describes as schizo-fascism: “actual fascists calling their opponents ‘fascists,’ blaming the Holocaust on the Jews, treating the Second World War as an argument for more violence.” Putin’s favored ideologist, Alexander Dugin, “could celebrate the victory of fascist in fascist language while condemning as ‘fascist’ his opponents.”
.. In this new schizo-fascism, homosexuals played the part assigned to Jews by the fascists of earlier eras. Democratic societies were branded by Russian TV as “homodictatorships.”
.. When Ukrainians protested against faked elections and the murder of protesters, Russian TV told viewers, “The fact that the first and most zealous integrators [with the European Union] in Ukraine are sexual perverts has long been known.”
.. Putin himself struck more macho poses and wore outfits more butch than all the stars of the Village People combined.
.. “Putin was offering masculinity as an argument against democracy.”
.. it all started with the August 2012 law outlawing advocacy of gay rights.
.. Even as Russian troops in Russian uniforms seized the peninsula, Putin denied anything was happening at all. Anyone could buy a uniform in a military surplus store. Russia was the victim, not the aggressor. “The war was not taking place; but were it taking place, America was to be blamed.”
.. Snyder identifies a new style of rhetoric: implausible deniability. “According to Russian propaganda,
  • Ukrainian society was full of nationalists but not a nation;
  • the Ukrainian state was repressive but did not exist;
  • Russians were forced to speak Ukrainian though there was no such language.”

Russian TV told wild lies. It invented a fake atrocity story of a child crucified by Ukrainian neo-Nazis—while blaming upon Ukrainians the actual atrocity of the shooting down of a Malaysian civilian airliner by a Russian ground-to-air missile.

Russia’s most important weapon in its war on factuality was less old-fashioned official mendacity than the creation of an alternative reality (or more exactly, many contradictory alternatives, all of them Putin-serving). “Russia generated tropes targeted at what cyberwar professionals called ‘susceptibilities’: what people seem likely to believe given their utterances and behavior.

..  “The Russian economy did not have to produce anything of material value, and did not. Russian politicians had to use technologies created by others to alter mental states, and did.”

.. Snyder cites repeated examples of journalists in prominent platforms, trusted by left-of-center readerships, whose reporting seemed to support Russian claims that Ukraine had become a romper room for neo-Nazis—or alternatively to “the green flag of jihad.”

.. Many of these reports cited second- and third-hand sources, some of whom disappeared untraceably after depositing their testimonies on Facebook.

Hard-left and alt-right social-media trolls then tidied up after the reporters, belittling claims that the original sources were disinformation.

.. Trump in Snyder’s telling was not the successful businessman he performed in his TV non-reality series, The Apprentice, but an American loser who became a Russian tool. “Russian money had saved him from the fate that would normally await anyone with his record of failure.”

.. . His first big foreign-policy speech of the election campaign—viewed from a reserved front-row seat by the Russian ambassador to the United States—was reportedly ghostwritten in considerable part by Richard Burt, a former American diplomat then under contract to a Russian gas company. (Burt has denied this attribution).

.. Snyder sees Trump as very much a junior partner in a larger Russian project, less a cause, more an effect.

.. slowly before Trump—and rapidly after Trump—America is becoming like Russia: a country on a path to economic oligarchy and distorted information.

.. Trump’s attitude to truth again and again reminds Snyder of the Russian ruling elite: The Russian television network RT “wished to convey that all media lied, but that only RT was honest by not pretending to be truthful.”