A series of high-powered speakers addressed global affairs at the Kilkenomics Festival back in November, reflecting on global politics, the North Korean situation, the winning – and losing – of elections, and, of course, Donald Trump.
The prospect of President Trump blowing up the world are not that strong and we can rest somewhat easily, said Harald Malmgren, a senior aide to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford.
The US Generals aren’t big risk takers and will persuade the President against the nuclear option, he feels. He predicted that the Chinese will, in time, be allowed to take North Korea by stealth and make it non nuclear, an informal type of “soft annexation”.
China will not want another unpredictable power on its doorstep and President Trump has given them the go ahead to deal with Kim Jong Un, now that limited sanctions have been brought in.
Donald Trump is seen by China and Russia as an opportunity for them to exert their influences in the world at the expense of the United States. This looseness started during the Obama-led withdrawal from Iraq, and the non-intervention policies in Libya and Syria.
Mr Malmgren said North Korea remains a huge problem, one which China is keen to see resolved. American Generals travelled to China prior to President Trump’s recent visit and a plan to resolve the crisis is clearly in train. And the same goes for both Russia and China.
The Trump era is likely to permit greater Chinese and Russian influence as was the case in the post-Vietnam war environment when both countries began to cast eyes towards Africa with greater intent. This point was emphasised by Pippa Malmgren (Harald’s daughter), who was a Republican adviser during the Reagan and HW Bush Presidencies.
Harald Malmgren recalled meeting Vladimir Putin, when he was a rising star as Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg (coincidentally, alongside former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), and was described in such terms by former East Germany KGB Head Yevgeny Primakov.
He even had dinner with Putin and in Russian style, they got drunk together, as they tested one another out.
Harald said his Swedish background meant he knew how to drink vodka, as is needed in these late sessions with Russians, as they are keen to see how their opponent or opposite behaves.
The Russians are interested in the Arctic as well as Greenland where there’s an abundance of rare earth metals. They are building a relationship with Copenhagen for access to Greenland for the pursuit of these rare metals for industry and technology; they have similar ambitions in Africa too.
There is a window of opportunity for the Chinese and Russia to build military bases in the Arctic and dominate this area in the pursuit of minerals.
Trump, the Malmgens both stated, likes Generals and having gone to military college, he will listen to them such as (former Generals) Chief of Staff Kelly and Defence Secretary Mattis.
The military in both the USA and China have decided to “save the world already” in Harald Malmgren’s view. He feels the press are sometimes baffled at what’s going on with too great a focus on Twitter and not on ‘realpolitik’.
In terms of Europe, Brexit remains the pressing issue, while France and Germany is going through some difficulties of their own, said Pippa Malmgren.
Donald Trump, she said, likes populism and doesn’t like the EU, the welfare state or any notion of centralisation, hence his support for Brexit and further trade dealing.
From a military perspective, the Baltic’s future will be interesting from a military perspective. Poles and the peoples of the Baltic States are worried and are likely to have to contribute financially for bigger armies to combat potential Russian expansion, which President Trump referred to during his visit to Poland, which was well received by the right wing Government in Warsaw.
With the Nordic Battle Group in place (2,500 troops from seven countries), in addition to NATO’s role in the area, along with the five state Nordic Defence Cooperation, it is an area of huge strategic interest for both Washington and Moscow. Lithuania and Sweden have brought back conscription, such are their worries for the future.
Vladimir Putin was upset to see the USSR break up, the conference was told, but he also has to be cognisant of the Muslims living in considerable numbers within Russia (20 per cent of the total population) and the other former Soviet Republics over whom he exerts such influence.
The Russians, for all their love of Soviet nostalgia, Malgrem added, also have a fixed eye on the future and hope for further western demise, be it the US, France or Germany.
The recent Dutch and French elections results have helped Europe turn the tide against populism, but the Catalonian issue has emerged and Eastern Europe (in addition to Austria) has seen a re-emergence of right wing, anti-immigrant sentiment.
President Macron is keen on further EU integration and federalism but there is not a wide appetite for deepening Brussels’ powerbase even further, all the more so in a world where we still don’t know the ultimate outcome of Brexit.
Throw Angela Merkel’s weakened post-election position into the mix and it’s difficult not to feel an endemic sense of uncertainty in European politics currently.
The Malmgrens were in conversation with David McWilliams for the Raymond Crotty lecture at Kilkenny’s Set Theatre, where they were also joined by Liam Halligan of the Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times and Channel 4. By the way, he feels that Brexit will work out just fine, which we found somewhat surprising.
A Londoner, who is related to singers Noel and Liam Gallagher, Liam lived in Russia for a number of years and met many Irish there who are doing well in their jobs, trading, involved in IT and other work.
He spoke very positively about Russia and noted how it has the fourth largest foreign exchange reserves in the world, owns much US debt and has rich reserves. It may not be perfect, but the Russians are clever, he stated, and the country isn’t bankrupt, contrary to popular belief in the western media.
Russia, he said, is confident about its place in the world, even if their army is not too large. Their main power is nuclear. They have huge gold and oil reserves and are well placed for the future, he reckons.
An Israeli-based and London-born speaker at the same event, Pinchas Landau, referred to Russian power in Serbia in 1914, a fraught time in European history.
Pinchas said that President Putin was the “new sheriff in the Middle East” and judging by his actions in Syria, they are also close to Iran, much to the concern of Saudi Arabia.
Harald Malmgren questioned the current purpose of NATO, adding that the US needs to develop better strategies, while President Putin must take off his nostalgia-tinted glasses.
There were many more interesting points made at the event that you generally don’t get to hear on the major TV news channels. More of the same next year, please.