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Trump and Putin Change the U.S. – Russia Conversation

by John Brian Shannon

Q: What could be worse than another Cold War between the United States and Russia?

A: Nothing. There isn’t anything that could be worse than another Cold War breaking out between nuclear armed superpowers that could conceivably destroy all life on the planet many times over. At the push of a button.

Boom! In an instant we’d be blinded by a flash and our bodies would heat up to 3 million degrees within seconds and everyone on Earth would end up floating around as carbon dust at 100,000 feet before finally settling down on top of the nuclear-winter snow that would cover the entire planet for about 40-years. (Nuclear weapons experts call that snow/radioactive carbon dust mixture, ‘grey goo’)

It’s a miracle it didn’t happen during the 40-year long Cold War, but we came within seconds of such annihilation many times over the course of those perilous four decades.


What the Helsinki Meeting Represents

For some people, the meeting between America’s President Trump and Russia’s President Putin represents an opportunity to catch either president in some sort of verbal gaffe, or to capture a sound-bite and milk it for all it’s worth — while for others, a meeting between the two major nuclear powers represents the best opportunity in the 21st-century to reverse the downward spiral in relations between the two nuclear hyperpowers.

That’s what is at stake here.

Anything else (and that means everything else!) just isn’t important when you’re playing at that level.

Whether 12 or 13 Russians may or may not have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election is orders of magnitude less important than the chance of nuclear war breaking out between the nuclear superpowers.

Also orders of magnitude less important is the purported (but not proven) collusion between Trump’s people and certain Russian citizens who may, or may not be spies or some kind of fixers or operators, and also orders of magnitude less important is Hillary’s purported carelessness in using a non-government (and therefore, non-secure) server to send or receive classified emails that Russian agents (purportedly) were able to hack and read. (That’s a lot of ‘purportedly’s’ — but everyone in America is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law)

And yes, those are all very interesting stories that will probably have a long shelf life and keep reporters buzzing until a bigger story replaces them.

But let’s not get distracted by sensational headlines, nor should we be complacent and forget what’s really at stake.

The leaders of two nuclear powers met, apparently had a businesslike and friendly meeting, and important matters were discussed. That in itself was almost a miracle after the goings-on between the two superpowers over the past decade, which between them, possess over 13,300 nuclear warheads, while the rest of the declared nuclear powers in the world account for a total of 1065 nuclear weapons.

G7 comparison: Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists

Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists


Building On A Successful Helsinki Meeting

Rather than let the present momentum lapse, President Trump and President Putin must ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and schedule some arms control talks.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” — President John F. Kennedy

In 1963, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which banned atmospheric atomic and nuclear bomb testing) was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union and in 1996 was passed by the UN General Assembly.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) was signed and ratified by both sides in 1972 which paved the way for SALT II in 1979 which was signed by both parties in 1979 but not ratified due to unrelenting bad press in the United States. However, both sides decided to adhere to the terms of SALT II even though it was never ratified. Which is the only reason we see near-parity in nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles between the United States and Russia today.

To keep the present momentum going, SALT II could be re-signed and ratified to pave the way for a SALT III treaty to be created — as per the original plan.

The logic of the SALT agreements is clear: The SALT I treaty limited Anti-Ballistic Missile sites and froze the number of missiles each side could possess, while SALT II established numerical equality in nuclear weapon delivery systems and also limited the number of Multiple, Independent Re-entry Vehicles (bombs) per missile, while the proposed SALT III was designed to draw down and place firm and verifiable caps on the nuclear bomb arsenals of both the United States and the Soviet Union to around 2400 each.

Before the present momentum between the two leaders fade, both men should push their respective administrations to re-commit to SALT II (as a formality) and ratify it before the end of 2018.

That would allow the necessary time to author a fresh SALT III agreement and schedule a signing ceremony for both SALT II and SALT III at the same time.

It’s not rocket science, it’s politics. But previous leaders just couldn’t get it done. Both sides have wanted to do this for almost 40-years, but (very suspiciously) something always cropped-up at the last minute to prevent forward progress on this most important of geopolitical issues.

“Things don’t happen, things are made to happen.” — President John F. Kennedy


Turning Nuclear Bombs into Electricity

At the end of the Cold War a deal was struck between the United States and Russia whereby excess nuclear bombs (remember; any number of nuclear bombs higher than 2400 for the United States and for Russia is complete overkill from a strategic defense perspective) were sold-off to nuclear power plants and used to produce many years worth of high grade, clean electricity.

The program was called the Megatons to Megawatts program and was called one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever by Harvard’s Matthew Bunn.

The problem is that it had just begun to hit its stride when President Barack Obama cancelled the program unilaterally, and after not much fanfare (only one NPR article) M2M ended.

Assuming both superpowers want to pare-down their nuclear arsenals to 2400 each, that leaves them with 4050 bombs (United States) and 4450 (Russia) to dispose-of. That’s 8500 bombs-worth of clean nuclear power, folks! For example, that’s enough nuclear fuel to power America until the year 2100 at present rates of nuclear fuel usage.

It’s a shame that this noble program was ended long before the most amount of good could be obtained from the Megatons to Megawatts program.

Right now, President Trump could phone President Putin and offer to resume this super-successful program — and he might find a willing partner in Putin who seemed fine with M2M until it was suddenly cancelled in 2013.

Building on success is so much better than re-inventing the wheel, as the saying goes.


A Plug for the Big 5 – as Opposed to the G7

The trouble with the G7 is that the United States GDP, military, number of nuclear bombs, and balance of trade (and in many other metrics) is bigger than all the other G7 nations combined! The U.S. is just too big! It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. The other countries just can’t relate, so they overcompensate.

The recent problems between the U.S. and other G7 members at the recent Charlevoix G7 summit are systemic — the fault isn’t with any of the members. Whatsoever.

And now is as good a time as any for the United States to champion the creation of a new organization, an organization dedicated to superpowers and near-superpowers like Russia, China, Japan, and the EU. Alternatively, if one of those countries or blocs didn’t want to join, The Commonwealth of Nations bloc could join instead.

In such an organization, members would find that the problems that superpowers and near-superpowers encounter would be similar problems and that solutions might also be found to be similar. At best, the world’s major powers could work together on their common problems, while middle powers could create the middle-power ‘Next-20’ Group, or N20.

In that way, superpowers and near-superpowers would be grouped together (logical) and middle powers would be grouped together (also logical) and the previously noted systemic problems would disappear, allowing politicians to roll up their sleeves and get to work on common issues instead of struggling with one giant stuck in a group of middle powers.

Read about the astonishing differences between the U.S. and the other G7 powers here.


Geopolitical Momentum is Vital and Precious – It Must Never Be Wasted

Now that the two presidents have had their first major meeting that seemed to go very well, it’s time to capitalize on the goodwill before events sweep away those good feelings and opportunities bigger than the sky are (again) allowed to slip away!

Whether the next phone call between the two men is about restarting the highly-successful Megatons to Megawatts program, or plans to meet with President Xi Jinping to discuss the Big 5 organization, or build onto the world-changing SALT treaties — or to discuss some other plan the two presidents discussed — now is the time to build on the initial meeting success and thereby positively change the conversation between superpowers and change the entire conversation that is happening in the global media because no other, better story appears to replace all that sniping.

One of the ways leaders lead effectively is to know when it’s time to change the conversation the media is having with itself and with its viewers.

I respectfully suggest, that time is NOW.

G7 – Please Save Our Seas!

by John Brian Shannon

Can the G7 Solve the Problem of Too Much Plastic in Our Oceans?

In the time it takes for G7 leaders to meet at the picturesque Charlevoix, Quebec location for their annual summit which lasts 28 hours, some 22,000 tonnes of plastic will have been dumped into the world’s oceans.

Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the sea. That’s equal to one garbage truck full of plastic every minute, 24/7/365.

And it’s piling up in great floating plastic islands that are found in every ocean on the planet, it’s piling up on the world’s beaches, and it’s sometimes ingested by fish and other aquatic life which sometimes kills them or causes them medical distress.

This problem didn’t suddenly appear. Since plastic was invented in 1907, billions of tonnes of the stuff has wound up in rivers, lakes, oceans, and the world’s land-based garbage dumps.

Nor will this problem disappear anytime soon as some kinds of plastic can exist in nature for 400-years.


OUR GENERATION… MUST PUT IT RIGHT.

NO ONE ELSE IS GOING TO DO IT FOR US.

WE’RE ALONE WITH THE MONSTER YOU AND ME CREATED.


 


SOLUTION #1

Stop putting so much plastic in the ocean!

It’s easy to switch to biodegradable plastics for everything from drinking straws and cutlery, to plates and coffee cups, instead of continuing to use the millions of tons of plastic equivalents every day.

“An Indian startup called Bakeys has come up with an edible alternative.

Their brand of edible spoons, knives and chopsticks are baked rather than manufactured, and even come in a number of different flavours including celery, black pepper and cumin. If you don’t like the taste, then the cutlery will safely biodegrade in just five days. The company launched a kickstarter campaign which raised over $250,000, well above the initial target of $20,000. They have now invested in a new production line and shipped over 3 million items. The founder believes that with scale, the edible spoon will soon cost the same as the plastic alternative. “So now the cutlery is tasty, fun, nutritious and environmentally friendly,” said the founder Narayana Peesapahty.” — World Economic Forum

If we stop putting so much plastic waste into the ocean we might actually be able to get ahead of the problem and solve it.

It’s not only plastic dinnerware that can be made biodegradable, packaging materials, bedding, and many other products can be manufactured using materials that break down in the environment, such as the ubiquitous shopping bags which are a menace to sea life.

Click on this link to get up-to-speed on the different kinds of environmentally friendly shopping bags.

Check here if you want to purchase biodegradable and compostable shopping bags made from corn cellulose.

As half of all plastic in the world’s oceans are fast-food and shopping-bag related, if we switch to biodegradable or compostable equivalents we will have solved HALF THE PROBLEM regarding future plastic waste.

It’s clearly a G7 and developed-nation problem!


SOLUTION #2

Scoop it up, crush it, and incinerate it!

As most of the plastic in the global ocean floats on top of the surface or within 25 feet of the surface, it’s reasonable that purpose-built machines could scoop up the plastic, crush it, and package it in tight bundles.

Once a ship has been filled with waste plastic, a number of things can be done with it.

The most efficient modality is to incinerate it at high temperature (800 celsius) to completely break the plastic down into its constituent atoms — which is the scientific way of saying that the exhaust plume will be non-toxic.

Some CO2 will be produced during incineration. But toxic gases? Barely measurable even by the most modern and sophisticated equipment.

Many advanced incinerators burn trash at 800C to produce many MegaWatts of electricity.

In Sweden, it’s the law that all trash that can’t be recycled must be incinerated — and citizens and companies can face steep fines for not turning-in their non-recyclable trash for incineration.

The recycling programme in Sweden also offers offbeat TV commercials to remind people to recycle and conserve.

On Swedish TV, sandwiched between other commercials, the Pantamera videos try to encourage people to return used bottles and cans to grocery stores – ‘panta mera’ means ‘recycle more’.

Sweden’s Pantamera programme saves millions of tonnes of trash from ending up in landfills and it saves the Swedish government millions of Krona per year. The bonus is that Swedes have a reliable supply of cheap renewable electricity as evermore European countries export their waste to Sweden.


The Job of Every G7 Leader: Turning ‘Problems’ into Opportunities

If G7 governments portray waste and plastic in the oceans as an onerous and unsolvable problem, that’s how their citizens will view the problem.

But as we see in Sweden, by showing leadership and making it fun for citizens to participate in solving the trash problem, waste in Sweden and the related problem of plastic in Swedish coastal waters have been completely eliminated — at a profit.

In fact, the Swedes over-achieved so well in regards to handling their ‘trash problem’ there’s only one ‘problem’ left to solve…

Sweden needs even more trash from European countries, because incinerating it is a cheap and clean way to produce electricity. Which is a nice ‘problem’ to have!

By any standard, the Swedish ‘Waste-to-Energy’ example is a ‘Win-Win-Win’ and that’s how G7 leaders should approach their similar and dissimilar problems.

If little Sweden (population 10 million) can achieve all that in only a few years time, imagine what the combined power of the G7 nations could accomplish should they turn their attention to the ‘problem‘ of plastic in the world’s oceans!


The Western Rules-Based Order is Collapsing. Now What?

by John Brian Shannon

Allow me to make a prediction.

Five years from now, the United States will have left NATO, NORAD, NAFTA, the UN, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, and every other multilateral organization and trade agreement on the planet.

And there’s a simple reason for it; U.S. President Donald Trump feels that every organization to which his country belongs has ‘taken advantage of the United States’ for decades and the only way to ‘stop the hemorrhaging’ is to quit all those institutions — perhaps forever.

Even if the U.S. decides to retain its UN membership for a time, my point will have been made.

Perhaps the Trump administration will explain its position in an ongoing conversation at the United Nations as to why it’s leaving the other institutions first and then quit the United Nations body last as a final snub to the world community.

Although these undertakings haven’t yet come to fruition, signs are forming that President Trump and his supporters may go the entire distance in separating the United States from the Rest of the World — and that’s especially true if he receives a second mandate via the 2018 midterms and a third mandate courtesy of American voters in 2020.


On the Way Out the Door, Grab Everything You Can!

Enroute to leaving every multilateral organization and trade agreement on the planet, Donald Trump the negotiator may tell his people to extract every possible concession, from every possible country, every step of the way.

If you think he won’t… sorry, you’re laughably naive.

Remember, Donald Trump thinks that every country in the world takes advantage of American largesse every day of the year! A team of Harvard lawyers couldn’t convince him otherwise. Therefore, why would he want to stay in any of those political or free trade agreements?

For Mr. Trump, interim negotiations seem nothing more than the necessary steps toward his goal of quitting those institutions completely.


The U.S. Midterm Elections Will Accelerate or Decelerate Trump’s Plans

The U.S. midterm election results will set the course for the next two years as all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested and if the Republicans win big, expect Trump’s isolationist plans to accelerate accordingly.

If the Trump team does well, every country that trades with the United States better have a solid ‘Plan B’ ready to implement the day following the U.S. midterm election. A year later just won’t cut it. This President moves fast.

For G7 and G20 countries, this means ramping-up trade with each other in an attempt to replace the great American marketplace where billions of dollars of foreign goods are purchased every day.

For developing countries, not much will change as most of them have only tiny trade links with the United States.


What Can G7 and G20 Countries Do?

Having failed to grasp the full extent of the Trump determination to pull back from the rest of the world, some countries seem uncertain about what to do next, while others think it will simply ‘blow over’ and business will soon return to normal.

But in Donald’s world, if you’re willing to sign an actual trade deal with his country he then feels he’s left too much money on the table and we’re right back to where we started — the world is taking advantage of the United States and America must never sign such an agreement!

Countries that run large trade surpluses with the United States may start to notice curtailed trade with America, therefore every country must plan for changes in that trading relationship, because, like the song says, ‘The times, they are a changin’ and it’s no fun being stuck with tens of billions of dollars of stuff that you can’t export’ — because U.S. tariffs have made your goods too expensive or the U.S. border is closed to your exports.

For countries with a less than $10 billion trade surplus with the United States, you’re probably pretty safe (for now) unless you start waving a red flag at the Commander in Chief. But if you’re a country that runs double-digit or triple-digit trade surpluses with the Americans, it’s officially time to panic.

2018 G7 Summit Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada

Top ten countries that operated a large trade surplus with the U.S.A in 2017 | NOTE: Does not include services | Data courtesy of the U.S. Commerce Dept | Image courtesy of FORTUNE


Strengthen non-U.S. Trading Relationships Now

Perhaps using the recently-signed CETA deal between Canada and the EU as a template, G20 countries could begin to strengthen their trading relationships with each other to the extent that they could survive America severely curtailing their trade. (If it comes to that)

‘Surely that’s an unreachable goal’ some might say, but even if countries miss the ‘unreachable goal’ by 50%, they’re still better off compared to not making the attempt.

Even if it takes the Trump team five years to wrestle trade deficits down to a manageable level (think; $10 billion/yr per country) and even if it takes ten long years for countries to find replacement markets for much of the goods and services they presently sell to the U.S., they’ll still be glad they invested the time and effort.

Countries with double-digit or triple-digit trade surpluses with America that get ahead of the curve are more likely to survive it better, while countries that don’t diversify may find themselves neck-deep in their own exports.

Final thought? As the United States pulls back from the world, countries that double-down on building their Commonwealth/EU/BRICS trade links will rejoice.