James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: NATO Foreign Ministers Meet in Brussels, EU Discusses Chronic Diseases, and Syria Ships Out More Chemical Weapons

by James M. Lindsay
March 28, 2014

U.S. secretary of state John Kerry attends a NATO foreign ministers meeting in December. (Francois Lenoir/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. secretary of state John Kerry attends a NATO foreign ministers meeting in December. (Francois Lenoir/Courtesy Reuters)

The World Next Week podcast is up. Stewart Patrick filled in for Bob McMahon this week. Stewart and I discussed NATO’s upcoming foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, the first European Union Chronic Diseases Summit, and progress in the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons.

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The highlights:

  • NATO foreign ministers are scheduled to meet next week in Brussels. Ukraine will likely dominate the discussion. The ministers will be looking to do three things: deter Russia from making further advances into Ukraine; reassure NATO’s Eastern European members that the Alliance will protect them from Russian aggression; and find ways to help Ukraine get its economy back on track. Each of those tasks is easier said than done. European NATO members are skittish about sanctions because they fear the damage to their own economies. Eastern European members appreciate the repeated mentions of NATO’s Article V “all-for-one-and-one-for-all” principle, but they know that in the current economic climate Europe is unlikely to invest more in its defense. And reviving the Ukrainian economy will require the country’s shaky government to impose some tough economic medicine on a population that is hoping that the overthrow of the old regime will bring better times and not tougher ones. When the NATO foreign ministers aren’t talking about Ukraine, they will likely be talking about who will replace Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO’s Secretary General. His term ends in July. Former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg looks to be the front-runner for the job.
  • NATO foreign ministers aren’t the only ones gathering in Brussels next week. EU officials will be heading to the Belgian capital to attend the EU’s first summit on chronic diseases: cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes to name the most prominent ones. Although the EU summit will focus specifically on the impact of chronic (or as they are also called, noncommunicable) diseases on Europe, the topic is gaining greater urgency in many developing countries. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of deaths from NCDs now occur in low- and middle-income countries, many of which do not have robust health systems to deal with the problem. The result is a potentially significant drag on economic growth, particularly as the number of people of working age who are physically incapable of working grows. Chronic and noncommunicable diseases will also become increasingly intermixed with trade negotiations. Many of these diseases are the result of diet, smoking, drinking, and lack of exercise, and so in theory can be prevented by lifestyle changes. But getting people to take better care of themselves is difficult. The result is reliance on treating problems after they arise, and especially with drug therapies. But pharmaceuticals don’t come cheap. And that raises tough questions about whether the interests of patents or patients should prevail.
  • The Assad government is expected to ship more chemical weapons out of Syria next week. The shrinking supply of chemical weapons, however, has not brought the country’s civil war, now in its fourth year, any closer to an end. The Assad government regained ground in the fighting months ago, and experts have given up talking about its impending demise. President Obama continues to draw criticism from some quarters for not doing more in Syria, but he shows no signs of abandoning his policy of simply trying to contain the fallout from the civil war. That looks to be fine with the American public, which is decidedly opposed to any U.S. military intervention, whether direct or indirect, in Syria. Pundits speculate that Russia may become more uncooperative on Syria to retaliate against the United States and Europe for opposing its annexation of Crimea. That doesn’t look to have happened—at least not yet.
  • Stewart’s Figure of the Week is Jonathan Schell. My Figure of the Week is 250,000. Our audience-nominated Figure of the Week comes from TWNW listeners Radha Muthiah (@radhastoves) and Jason Walters (@GlobalSherpa) who chose seven million. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

NATO: NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen discusses his meeting with President Obama and the situation in Ukraine. Christopher S. Chivvis discusses NATO’s next moves in response to the Crimean annexation. Reuters reports that the former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is being eyed as the next NATO Secretary General and that Obama wants to boost NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe.

Chronic Diseases: The EU Chronic Diseases Summit website frames the chronic disease issues facing Europe. The New York Times explains why the BRICS countries are dealing with a rise in chronic disease. Thomas J. Bollyky argues that there is a need for improved access to noncommunicable disease treatment in the developing world and discusses the global grip of cigarette smoking. The WHO has ten facts on noncommunicable diseases.

Syria: Reuters reports that Secretary of State Kerry hopes the Crimean crisis will not affect Russian cooperation in Syria. The New York Times writes that Syria has delivered another set of chemical weapons for destruction per its international agreement. The Washington Post writes that President Obama’s Syria decisions have been criticized by a group of senators. ABC reports that countries at an Arab Summit were divided over whom to back in the Syrian conflict.

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