The Overflow for August 10th

International News

Arming your friends

The US has approved the sale of more than 130 tanks, 20 armoured vehicles and other equipment, worth around $1.2 billion, to Saudi Arabia. The approval for land force equipment comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition in support of Yemeni forces loyal to the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who are trying to oust Iran-allied Houthi forces from the capital, Sanaa. The coalition's air strikes have come under criticism from rights groups for the deaths of civilians.

The US Defense Security Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales, said that General Dynamics will be the principal contractor for the sale, adding it would contribute to US national security by improving the security of a regional partner. "This sale will increase the Royal Saudi Land Force’s (RSLF) interoperability with U.S. forces and conveys U.S. commitment to Saudi Arabia's security and armed forces modernisation," the agency said in a notice posted on its website. Lawmakers now have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare.

Saudi Arabia and its mostly Gulf Arab allies intervened in Yemen's civil war in March 2015 after the Houthi movement had pushed the administration into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations General Assembly in June to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council until the military coalition stops killing civilians in Yemen.

 

Russia and Turkey

Russia and Turkey took a big step toward normalising relations on Tuesday, with their leaders announcing an acceleration in trade and energy ties at a time when both countries have troubled economies and strains with the West. President Putin received his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in a Tsarist-era palace outside his home city of St Petersburg. It was Erdogan's first foreign trip since last month's failed military coup, which left Turkey's relationship with the United States and Europe badly damaged.

The visit is being closely watched in the West, where some fear both men, powerful leaders ill-disposed to dissent, might use their rapprochement to exert pressure on Washington and the European Union and stir tensions within NATO, the military alliance of which Turkey is a member.

Putin said Moscow would gradually phase out sanctions against Ankara, imposed after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border nine months ago, and that bringing ties to their pre-crisis level was the priority.

The leaders were to discuss the war in Syria, over which they remain deeply divided, in a subsequent closed-door session. Progress there is likely to be more halting, with Moscow backing President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara wanting him out of power.

Turkey has been incensed by what it sees as Western concern over its post-coup crackdown but indifference to the bloody putsch itself, in which rogue soldiers bombed parliament and seized bridges with tanks and helicopters. More than 240 people were killed, many of them civilians.

Putin's rapid phone call expressing his solidarity to Erdogan in the wake of the failed putsch had been a "psychological boost", the Turkish president said.

 

Vietnam moving for the south china sea

Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China's runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials. Diplomats and military officers confirmed that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing.

The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and they have yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days, according to the three sources.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said the information was "inaccurate", without elaborating.

Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh, told reporters in Singapore in June that Hanoi had no such launchers or weapons ready in the Spratlys but reserved the right to take any such measures. "It is within our legitimate right to self-defense to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory," he said.

The move is designed to counter China's build-up on its seven reclaimed islands in the Spratlys archipelago. Vietnam's military strategists fear the building runways, radars and other military installations on those holdings have left Vietnam's southern and island defences increasingly vulnerable.

The ruling last month, stridently rejected by Beijing, found no legal basis to China's sweeping historic claims to much of the South China Sea. Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim all of the Spratlys while the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim some of the area.


UK News

Scotland Courts Berlin

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met the deputy foreign minister of Germany on Tuesday, seeking to strengthen her ties with Europe's economic powerhouse in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the EU - a move Scotland overwhelmingly rejected. Sturgeon has said that Scotland must not be dragged out against its will and that she would start preparing for independence to keep Scotland's post-Brexit options open.

The surprise visit to establish contact with Berlin may not, however, sit well with some European countries, such as Spain and France, that have been wrestling with regional separatist movements and are opposed to holding any direct talks with Scotland on the terms of Brexit. "The situation in Scotland won't be repeated anywhere else, unless Spain suddenly decides to leave the EU and I don't think that will be the case anytime soon," Sturgeon told Germany's ARD TV. "Scotland is in a unique situation...and I think that under these circumstances it's important to stay open for all possible options. And I think that it would be very positive for the rest of the EU if part of Great Britain, if not all of Great Britain, should remain part of the European family of nations."

In what was her first visit to an EU capital as first minister since a meeting with EU leaders in Brussels days after Britain's EU referendum, Sturgeon met Michael Roth, one of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's top deputies and also Germany's European Affairs Minister.

"Today's discussion has been a welcome and constructive opportunity to strengthen our relations to discuss the way forward for the European Union and how all voices can be heard in that process," Sturgeon said in a statement in Edinburgh. "Scotland chose to remain in the European Union, and the solidarity shown toward Scotland as an enthusiastic part of the EU - demonstrated once again in today's talks here in Berlin – has been very welcome."

The meeting, however, did not take place at the German Foreign Ministry, which declined to say where it was held.

In a statement on the German Foreign Ministry website, Roth said: "We had a very pleasant and constructive conversation between two passionate Europeans. I hope that the United Kingdom will find a way forward so that at the end of the day Europe will profit as a whole."

 

How to even the game

British banks will from 2018 have to share customers' data with third parties who can then show how much could be saved by using other lenders, the competition watchdog said on Tuesday. New banks, and consumer advocates, derided the plans as relying too much on people's ability and willingness to use new technology. Customers are paying more than they should for banking and are not benefiting from new services, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said in its final report after a three-year review of consumer and small business banking.

Financial technology companies are expected to offer smartphone "apps" and web sites that use customers' information to enable them to compare bank charges. The CMA believes setting a 2018 deadline will also boost the sector, which uses technology to make financial services cheaper and more efficient.

The government wants to see financial tech grow, but European Union countries like Germany would like to lure the sector from London after Britain voted to leave the EU. "This is a real opportunity for the UK to take the lead. We are going to make it happen and give it a push to get it across the line," Adam Land, a senior director at the CMA, said. "There is no question that fintech companies are champing at the bit."


Olympics Recap

Yesterday marked another milestone for Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, as he picked up his record 20th gold medal - 11 more than 2nd place on the list. The US women's gymnastics team also picked up gold, maintaining their country's position on top of the standings.


Long Read

Brazil was long hailed as the next nation to breach the "top tier", with a fast rate of growth and improving living conditions. However, it's suffered serious setbacks in recent years, in the run up to it's planned two stage unveiling to the world: the World Cup, and this years Olympic Games. With the economy shrinking, and politics in turmoil, what's next for the bright light of South America?

We look back at history when we’re writing about the present to remind ourselves of where we fall short, but also of the promise and glory in the competition to make things better.
— John Dickerson