France gears up to face new riots
By SAMUEL PETREQUIN
Friday, December 7
PARIS (AP) — France mobilized tens of thousands of police officers and made plans to shut down beloved tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre on the eve of anti-government protests that authorities feared could be even more violent than ones that have crippled the country for weeks.
The drastic security measures will put central Paris in a lockdown on Saturday, disrupting the plans of tens of thousands of tourists and residents.
Hundreds of shops in Paris planned to shut their doors as well, preferring to lose business during the key holiday shopping period rather than have their windows smashed in and their merchandise looted, as happened to many Paris stores last Saturday when an anti-government protest over rising taxes turned into a riot.
On Friday, workers across Paris lugged pieces of plywood and hammered boards over the windows of shops and businesses — making the plush Champs-Elysees neighborhood appear like it was bracing for a hurricane.
Some top French officials said that description was not far off.
“According to the information we have, some radicalized and rebellious people will try to get mobilized tomorrow,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told a press conference on Friday. “Some ultra-violent people want to take part.”
Authorities say 8,000 police will fan out across Paris, equipped with a dozen barricade-busting armored vehicles that could be used for the first time in a French urban area since the 2005 riots.
“These vehicles can be very useful to protect buildings,” said Stanislas Gaudon, head of the Alliance police union. “And in case they set up barricades, we can quickly clear out the space and let our units progress.”
Paris police, fearing that radical protesters could turn street furniture and construction materials into makeshift weapons, on Friday were removing all glass containers, railings and construction machines in high-risk areas. Those included the world-renowned Champs-Elysees Avenue, which would normally be packed with tourists and shoppers on a Saturday in early December.
The Nicolas wine chain, one of the biggest retailers in the country, canceled all its wine tasting sessions scheduled for Saturday.
“It’s with an immense sadness that we’ll see our city partially brought to a halt, but your safety is our priority,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said. “Take care of Paris on Saturday because Paris belongs to all the French people.”
Across the country, France is mobilizing some 89,000 police, up from 65,000 last weekend, when more than 130 people were injured and over 400 arrested as protests degenerated into the worst street violence to hit Paris in decades.
Authorities also have cancelled six French league soccer matches around the country.
Since the anti-government unrest began on Nov. 17 in reaction to a sharp increase in diesel taxes, four people have been killed in protest-related accidents. Now the demands of the “yellow vest” movement — named for the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists keep in their cars — are pressing for a wider range of benefits from the government to help French workers, retirees and students.
French President Emmanuel Macron agreed late Wednesday to abandon the fuel tax hike that triggered the movement, but their anger at his government has not abated. Macron, since returning from the G-20 meeting last weekend, has kept largely out of sight, a move that has puzzled both supporters and critics.
French students opposing changes in key high school tests protested again Friday, a day after footage widely shared on social media showed the arrest of protesting high school students outside Paris and prompted an outcry. Trade unions and far-left parties have lashed out at perceived police brutality.
The images, filmed Thursday at Mantes-la-Jolie, showed students on their knees with their hands behind their head being watched over by armed, masked police officers.
Castaner, the interior minister, said 151 people were arrested in the small town, some carrying weapons. He said none of the students were injured.
The rioting in France has also had an economic impact at the height of the holiday shopping season. Rampaging groups last weekend threw cobblestones through Paris storefronts and looted valuables in some of the city’s richest neighborhoods.
The national Federation of French markets said that Christmas markets have been “strongly impacted” and that its members registered “an average fall of their estimated figures between 30 and 40 percent since the beginning of the yellow vest movement.”
In addition to the closure of the Eiffel Tower, many shops and museums across Paris, including the Louvre, the Orsay Museum and the Grand Palais, will keep their doors shut on Saturday for safety reasons. Music festivals, operas and other cultural events in the French capital were cancelled.
“We need to protect culture sites in Paris but also everywhere in France,” Culture Minister Franck Riester told RTL radio.
Opinion: ‘European Army’ Is Not a Serious Suggestion
By Gary Schmitt
French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent call for the creation of a “real European army” is a product of a perfect storm in which Paris’ decades-long effort to break the European continent free of leadership from Washington has been boosted by President Donald Trump’s obvious disdain for NATO and America’s European allies.
One can well imagine the U.S. president’s response to Macron’s initiative as: “Go for it Europe; about time you got serious about defending yourselves and stopped free-riding off the U.S.”
But neither Macron’s proposal to establish a European army autonomous from American participation, nor Trump’s seeming reluctance to stand firmly behind our long-standing treaty commitment to defend alliance members from attack, are what thoughtful statesmen should be doing at this moment in history.
Until the European Union is truly a sovereign, unified state — and not an amalgamation of 28 distinct governments as it is today — there can be no politically viable “supreme command” over such a force. Even if it were possible to get an agreement among the various capitals to create a European army, its utility would be minimal since employing it would require a consensus among those same capitals about when to do so.
And since it’s a rare thing when leaders from Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, The Hague, Stockholm and elsewhere agree about what constitutes a threat, how to prioritize the threats they face and, even more fundamentally, whether using the armed forces are the appropriate response to any given threat, a European army would likely be a costly and largely symbolic conceit to the idea of European strategic autonomy.
And it would be costly. The idea that Europe could pool their various national military resources to create a viable force assumes that there already exists the kind and quantity of capabilities necessary to do so. But, as one recently retired German general has noted, true strategic autonomy would require the EU to acquire “an independent European nuclear deterrent, the ability to ensure the collective defense of Europe, and the ability to carry out military-crisis interventions anywhere in the world.”
For a continent whose major powers are struggling to increase military spending and still have not met the NATO-agreed target of spending 2 percent of national GDP on the military, it seems a stretch to suggest there exists the fiscal or political wherewithal to resource adequately a European army that could truly replace NATO’s operational and deterrent capabilities.
But it’s no less a conceit to believe that the United States is better off jettisoning its European allies. America’s leaders once understood that peace and stability on the two ends of the Eurasian continent were essential not only for the welfare of the peoples there but also of vital importance to the United States. Without strong alliances, the ensuing power vacuum will almost certainly lead authoritarians like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping to take advantage of a divided array of lesser powers and, in turn, lessen the political, diplomatic and economic sway of the United States.
The great power peace that the West has enjoyed since the end of World War II is not a natural state of affairs if history is any guide: it rests on a security order established by Washington in conjunction with democratic allies in Asia and Europe. It’s easy to lose sight of that fact as we assume the order’s benefits and only focus on the immediate costs of maintaining it.
It’s true of course that the allies can and should do more to increase their military capabilities. But Washington shouldn’t forget that those same allies have been with us in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the various conflicts in the Middle East.
The fact is, as a congressionally mandated report by the National Defense Strategy Commission recently concluded, the U.S. military is not sized adequately to carry out the administration’s own National Security Strategy. Indeed, according to the bipartisan panel of national security experts, “The security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades.”
In short, the United States needs allied support and will continue to do so as our own resources for defense are squeezed by rising entitlement spending and interest payments on the national debt.
Americans are reluctant to play the world’s policeman. Understandably, so. But ask any cop on the beat and he’ll tell you, it’s always better to have partners and colleagues you’ve trained with for backup when things turn rough.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gary Schmitt is resident scholar in strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Europe Should Focus on Fixing NATO
By Luke Coffey
Many of America’s allies in NATO have slashed their military budgets since the end of the Cold War. Those “peace dividends” have taken a severe toll the free world’s military power.
When troops were needed in places like Afghanistan or Iraq, some European countries were able or willing to deploy only a few dozens at a time. During the Libya campaign, some European countries were literally running out of bombs to drop.
If a more urgent wake-up call was needed, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, should have done the job. And, indeed, the situation has improved slightly since that act of naked aggression. But most European nations still have a long way to go before their military spending rises to the levels truly required to meet the threats facing the West.
Since entering the Oval Office, President Trump has brought much needed attention to our allies’ need to pull their weight on the common defense by beefing up their militaries. And some American policymakers are looking to the EU as way forward. After all, 22 EU members are also part of the NATO pact. Their notion is that the organization could stand up an “EU army” that could become the “European Pillar” inside NATO.
This might sound good — but it isn’t going to work.
The belief that a stronger EU role in defense matters will encourage European countries to invest more in defense rests on the dubious premise that the EU will somehow be able to achieve what NATO has been unable to do since the end of the Cold War.
Moreover, the creation of an EU army is also risky policy for the United States and could have negative long-term consequences for NATO.
Proponents argue that an EU army will always be made available to the alliance. While theoretically appealing, this is unlikely to work in practice.
Almost all decisions pertaining to defense and security matters in the EU are taken by unanimity — meaning that just one country can veto everything. And six veto-wielding EU members are not members of NATO. One of them, Cyprus, has a record of blocking and delaying NATO-EU cooperation, having done so during major operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
This is also why it would not be in the interest of the United States to have the bulk of Europe’s fighting force under the control of the EU.
The United States had enough problems getting several members of NATO to send meaningful numbers of troops to Afghanistan. So imagine the difficulty the U.S. would have if almost all of the individual armies across Europe merged under one flag and that the decision for use this new amalgamated European army required unanimity. The United States would have to settle for all or nothing — and considering the recent anti-American sentiment found in many corners of Europe, it would probably be nothing.
Also, the goal of creating an EU army is not actually about creating more military capability in Europe. Eurofederalists have embraced the idea as opening yet another policy area in which Brussels may plant the EU flag. Defense is one of the few areas that largely remains the competency of the individual member states. For them, an EU army is about European integration, not military capacity and capability.
So what should the United States do about the idea of an EU army? The EU is not the answer to Europe’s military woes. Instead, the U.S. should push for more NATO-centric solutions that will ensure that all advancements in European defense capabilities are done through the NATO alliance or at least on a multilateral basis. Every euro spent on EU defense initiatives is one less that is available for NATO.
European capitals should focus their energy and resources on fixing NATO rather than creating more institutions and signing up for further military commitments within the EU. This is the only way the United States will see greater burden sharing.
The U.S. must ensure that NATO retains its primacy over, and the right of first refusal for, all Europe-related defense matters. This will guarantee that the U.S. retains the level of influence commensurate with the level of resources it commits to Europe.
Any increase in European military capability needs to take place under the NATO umbrella. NATO has been the cornerstone of trans-Atlantic security for almost seven decades. Now is not the time to replace it with new security structures that will compete with, not complement, the alliance.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Luke Coffey is the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Mass protests in Colombia mar president’s first 100 days but reveal a nation marching toward peace
December 7, 2018
Fabio Andres Diaz
Researcher on Conflict, Peace and Development, International Institute of Social Studies
Fabio Andres Diaz does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Ivan Duque has only been Colombia’s president since August, but already his government is in crisis.
The country that has been gripped by near-constant protest since the 42-year-old conservative took power. But the mass demonstrations that criticize Duque’s young government may actually be a good sign for Colombian democracy.
Duque, who has never before held elected office, pledged that his government would “correct” the perceived mistakes of the centrist former president Juan Manuel Santos, who left office after eight years with 19 percent public support.
Voters blamed Santos for failing to reign in corruption, allowing Colombia’s economy to stagnate and signing an unpopular peace treaty with the country’s main guerrilla group. Now, as Duque recently acknowledged on Twitter, they are angry that his floundering government has struggled to deliver on any campaign promises in its first 100 days.
Protests grip Colombia
Duque’s economic reform package, which proposed tax exemptions for industrial developers and a tax hike on food, was seen as pro-business and anti-poor. The government is also feeling the fallout of the massive Odebrecht corruption scandal that has implicated high-ranking public officials across Latin America, including in Colombia.
The president’s approval rating plummeted, from 47 percent in October to 27 percent in November. Meanwhile, the number of street protests has more than tripled since Duque took office, according to an analysis by the think tank Fundación Ideas para la Paz.
Students and school teachers have demonstrated to demand higher public education investment, better teacher pay and improved educational access nationwide. Their marches have been joined by indigenous groups, who express solidarity with the students and demand an autonomous indigenous education system.
Coca-leaf growers have marched in different provinces, protesting the government’s renewed focus on eradicating their illicit crop rather than on helping farmers plant substitutes like cacao and coffee.
And Colombian truckers went on strike over what they say are excessively high fuel, VAT and toll prices in late November, demonstrations that now risk paralyzing commerce.
Ending Colombia’s armed conflict
In Colombia, a protest movement with so much power and stamina is not necessarily a bad sign. As a scholar of peace and conflict, I see these public displays of dissent as proof that peace is effectively taking hold in Colombia after decades of bloody violence.
The Colombian conflict, which began in the late 1940s and continues today, is one of the world’s longest-running armed struggles. It involves the Colombian armed forces, leftist guerrillas seeking to overthrow the state, drug lords who control huge swaths of territory and right-wing paramilitary groups.
Clashes between these factions – which have included bombings, firefights, kidnappings and targeted assassinations – have killed more than 1 million civilians since 1985 and given Colombia the world’s second-largest displaced population.
In late 2016, after a lengthy negotiation, President Santos signed a controversial treaty with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC guerrillas.
The FARC was the biggest and most tenacious player in Colombia’s conflict, with around 7,000 troops stationed across the country. Disarming these Marxist revolutionaries was an important step toward deescalating violence and convincing other armed groups to enter talks with the government.
The Colombian government has faced numerous hurdles to fully implementing the agreements it made with the FARC, and many Colombians reject negotiating with terrorists entirely. Skirmishes continue, and a spate of activist killings has international observers worried.
Peace is still fragile.
Nonetheless, the year after the accord came into effect, on Nov. 30, 2016, FARC fatalities declined from 3,000 to 78, Colombia’s murder rate dropped to a historic low, and attacks by armed groups declined 52 percent.
Peace stretches its wings
The current protest movement is another consequence of Colombia’s new peace.
During the FARC’s 52-year insurgency, social movements in Colombia were frequently accused of being an extension of the guerrilla group or of being infiltrated by its members. That allowed public officials to discredit protesters as terrorists and ignore their demands.
The FARC accord changed that.
For the first time in its modern history, there’s room for dissent in Colombia.
Politicians from the left and right now openly support the marches organized by students, teachers, coca-growers, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and trade unions. Political backing gives protesters more legitimacy and shields them from possible police repression – previously a common response to non-violent and violent protests alike.
Police protection, not repression
National policing reforms passed in 2016, which sought to safeguard the constitutional right to protest in Colombia, have also led to a more restrained response by law enforcement.
When marches shut down city streets and snare traffic, Colombian riot police typically escort and protect protesters, rather than confront them. On the last day of a student strike in October, officers in the town of Popayán even gave protesters flowers.
Confrontations between Colombian police and protesters still occur, sometimes violently.
On Nov. 11, as officers in riot gear arrested students during a massive education march in Bogota, video footage appears to confirm protesters’ allegations that plainclothes police threw stones at the officers to incite violence.
Colombian police seem to use force more often in confronting rural marches by indigenous, Afro-Colombian and peasant protesters, my analysis shows. In part, that’s because the 2016 police reforms – like most government initiatives in Colombia – have been more fully adopted in the capital and other major cities.
Urban protesters also have better access to the legal and PR help they need to hold law enforcement accountable for abuse, and their causes tend to enjoy more political support.
Police are not the only ones changing their protest tactics in the new Colombia.
Advocacy groups have demonstrated creative, peaceful forms of protest, using art, dance and music to convey their message. Most explicitly reject violence as a strategy.
In a country where for so long dissent was met with repression, stigma and accusations of terrorism, these vibrant protests are signs of positive change indeed.