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Editorials | The Guardian

Latest news and features from, the world's leading liberal voice

Published: Thu, 17 Aug 2017 21:54:31 GMT2017-08-17T21:54:31Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2017

The Guardian view on A-levels: another misdirected reform | Editorial

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:54:05 GMT2017-08-17T18:54:05Z

Michael Gove wanted to make exams more rigorous. He should have concentrated on widening opportunity for all school leavers

Michael Gove, now environment secretary, arrived at the Department for Education at the start of the 2010 coalition with a closely worked blueprint for raising academic standards. Mr Gove long ago moved on, but his reforms have now reached fruition in the first set of results of his “more rigorous” A-levels. A core group of 13 of the most academic subjects – but excluding maths and further maths – no longer have an AS exam, only an end of course final test. Initial fears that that would mean worse results were eased when Sally Collier, the head of the joint council for qualifications, confirmed that, as usual, there would be “smoothing” so that this year’s grades reflected the abilities of the pupils sitting them. As a result, it is hard to interpret the significance of the headline findings showing a small decline in overall passes, and boys doing slightly better, girls slightly worse, than they did last year.

But in a buyer’s market where a demographic dip means fewer 18-year-olds, who are applying for places in a rapidly expanding university sector, more students than ever have decided to wait and apply once they know their A-level grades. At least that is what universities hope. For there is mounting evidence that with the graduate bonus shrinking, consent for student fees is ebbing away. This September, not only do the poorest students lose their maintenance grants and nursing students their bursaries, but fees go up to £9,250 and loans attract an interest rate of 6.1%. That is around three times the rate of a personal loan or a mortgage, and it will be levied despite repayments being securely collected through graduates’ pay packets. It is extortionate. The man who first introduced fees, Andrew Adonis, is now campaigning against them. Even David Willetts, who as universities minister raised fees to £9,000, thinks recent changes have gone too far.

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The Guardian view on Hong Kong: the voice of Beijing, not of justice | Editorial

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:53:53 GMT2017-08-17T18:53:53Z

Campaigners in Hong Kong and abroad say it is vindictive to imprison pro-democracy protestors over a sit-in. They are right

The jailing of Joshua Wong, Hong Kong’s youthful “face of protest”, and of his fellow activists Nathan Law and Alex Chow, is technically a matter of law but in reality one of politics. Two of them had already carried out community service for unlawful assembly or inciting unlawful assembly; the third had received a suspended sentence. That was not enough. They have been at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement, inspiring many more in Hong Kong to rally in defence of the greater freedoms it has enjoyed compared to the mainland under the “one country-two systems” formula. Authorities have been determined to silence these voices. By appealing against the “rather dangerous” supposed leniency of the original sentences, they have succeeded, for now.

The trio were among those who forced their way into Civic Square, just outside government offices, to hold a sit-in in 2014. Their arrests helped to spark the Umbrella Movement, an unprecedented mass act of peaceful civil disobedience which gave the lie to the belief that Hong Kong people do not care about politics or civil rights, only prosperity and stability. Many do; but young people in particular are increasingly concerned about the erosion of the region’s way of life – theoretically guaranteed until 2047, 50 years after handover, but in reality worn down at an increasing speed.

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The Guardian view on women’s football: mind your language | Editorial

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:53:23 GMT2017-08-17T18:53:23Z

The FA has published its report into allegations of racism and bullying in the women’s game. It makes for uncomfortable reading

What a mess the Football Association has made. When the top scorer in the Women’s Super League was not picked for England’s Euro 2017 squad this summer, it looked like a familiar tale: a brilliant player and the manager, Mark Sampson, clash over differing styles. The result is sore egos and not much else. However, when allegations of racism and harassment surfaced, the disagreement appeared much more disturbing. What is bizarre is that this did not start off as a complaint but fell out of an official investigation into football’s sporting culture. The striker, Eni Aluko, who is also a qualified lawyer, had been asked to give her views and when she did so about management, her prospects dimmed. This looks terrible. The FA did investigate Ms Aluko’s claims and, after an independent inquiry, Mr Sampson was cleared and Ms Aluko paid £80,000, effectively silenced and sidelined. The FA chose not to comment on the story, relenting only after a day of media scrutiny. When it finally published the report into the affair, it revealed a fair amount of “industrial language” and frankly inappropriate comments. Being called “lazy as fuck” or a “pain in the arse” isn’t motivational. Men’s football has learned lessons the hard way; let’s hope the women’s game doesn’t have to.

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The Guardian view on Donald Trump: beyond the moral pale | Editorial

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 18:46:55 GMT2017-08-16T18:46:55Z

The US president has gone even further than before in condoning the racist right. He must pay the price, at home and abroad

In his angry and undignified press conference on Tuesday night, Donald Trump deliberately and shockingly crossed the line that separates the acceptable and the unacceptable in the conduct of an elected democratic leader in a multiracial society. Mr Trump must now face the consequences of this momentous and inexcusable decision. Those consequences should include the way that the leaders of multiracial European nations, including Britain, conduct their dealings with the US president from this moment on.

On Saturday, Mr Trump had already equivocated between America’s white racists and its anti-racists, after clashes in Charlottesville in which an anti-racist protester was killed by a car driven by a neo-Nazi activist. Mr Trump’s evasions drew widespread and instant condemnation, not least from within his own party. On Monday, he then read out a statement, clearly written by others, that sought to repair the damage. But the very next day, speaking with his own voice, he trashed his own retraction.

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The Guardian view on vaginal mesh implants: trust data and patients | Editorial

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 18:40:38 GMT2017-08-16T18:40:38Z

The devices have benefited a large number of women – but thousands have suffered serious adverse effects

The numbers tell their own tale. Thousands of women have undergone surgery to have vaginal mesh implants removed after suffering complications. Around one in 15 of those fitted with the most common type of mesh have required operations, according to NHS data obtained by the Guardian. In short, the problems are much more widespread than previously acknowledged. The removal rate was previously estimated at less than 1%.

But numbers are not enough. Each case is a woman with a disturbing story; and listening is as important as tallying them. Carolyn Churchill had to give up work after she was left in agony, with persistent bleeding. Yet she said she was made to feel like a baby for complaining. Others describe being left unable to walk or have sex – and of being assured that the implant was not responsible. So even this data under-represents the problem. Women may not be referred for removal, or may decide against it given the risks.

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The Guardian view on the EU customs union: stay, don’t shadow | Editorial

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 17:34:13 GMT2017-08-15T17:34:13Z

The government’s Brexit position papers are not focused on what’s best for Britain but on trying to survive this autumn’s Tory party conference

It is impossible not to be both cynical and angry about the government’s “future partnership paper” on customs arrangements with the EU, which was published on Tuesday. Like the other papers on Brexit themes that are expected from Whitehall in the coming days, this one seems less concerned with its ostensible purpose, UK policy towards the EU after Brexit, than it is with the management of internal Conservative party divisions. The document is primarily an attempt to signal to MPs that Theresa May’s government is back at its desks and back in business after its election debacle, and is now working together as one. It is not a serious attempt to set out a desirable relationship with the EU that stands up for Britain, its economy, its workforce and this country’s values.

The document is being spun as a contribution towards the soon to be resumed Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU. But that is largely pretence. Those discussions, which aim to reach some agreements in October, are not about future customs arrangements. They are strictly focused on the rights of EU and UK citizens in one another’s jurisdictions after Brexit, on the Irish land border and on the financial settlement between the UK and the EU. Even if the new document were remarkably interesting and enlightened – and it is neither – the issues with which it deals are for later in the process, as critics were quick to point out.

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The Guardian view on the Grenfell inquiry: not enough trust | Editorial

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 17:32:40 GMT2017-08-15T17:32:40Z

Sir Martin Moore-Bick wants to keep his investigation mainly technical. But he wants another one to look at social housing, and he’s right

It was not only the fire that destroyed confidence in the local council among the people who lived in Grenfell Tower; nor was it just the council’s chaotic response in the days afterwards, nor its apparent reluctance to take responsibility or express regret for the tragedy that unfolded in the early hours of 14 June. It was the culmination of long years of being marginalised and discriminated against by most representatives of established authority. In that context, the task facing Sir Martin Moore-Bick as he begins work on the inquiry is much deeper than the challenge of overcoming the image of a white man with a double-barrelled name and an old-fashioned manner.

The terms of reference are now set. Sir Martin’s focus will be fundamentally technical, and he wants a preliminary report ready by Easter next year. His critics say this is not enough. They argue that the building and fire regulations and the way that they were applied in the case of the Grenfell refurbishment are the product of a particular political and economic environment, and that without investigating that he will not reach the truth. But although regulations, sprinkler systems and fire doors are only part of the story, the part they play is important.

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The Guardian view on India at 70: Democracy in action

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 19:01:27 GMT2017-08-14T19:01:27Z

India’s pluralistic democracy – which, like the EU, works because no single culture or language is central to its identity or unity – is under threat from rightwing Hindu extremists

When the British departed from the subcontinent 70 years ago, the most appropriate epitaph was probably provided by an Indian official who remarked: “You British believe in fair play. You have left India in the same condition of chaos as you found it.” The months that followed the partitioning of British India seemed to confirm the nature of the gift of independence. The subcontinent endured a lawless, bloody anarchy that encompassed some of the 20th century’s greatest migrations and crimes. Born in blood were two newly created nations of mostly-Hindu India, and Pakistan, a Muslim homeland in south Asia, as well as about 500 feudal autocracies, which ranged from princely states – some as large as a European nation – to village-sized chiefdoms. When the British predicted there would be many more partitions, it was because the former colonial masters thought “no one can make a nation out of a continent of many nations”.

In Pakistan, that forecast came partly true, thanks largely because of an attempt to impose a single language – Urdu – on its most populous province, East Bengal. By 1971, after a civil war in which India played a part in stoking, Pakistan had been cleaved in two. The unfinished business of princely states remains: continuing revolts – in Pakistan’s Baluchistan, India’s Kashmir and Manipur – are rooted in identities distinct from the nations that swallowed them up. However, gloomy prophecies of fragmentation have been proved wrong decade after decade in India despite the poverty and diversity. It is perhaps India’s greatest achievement that one-sixth of humanity now cast their votes regularly in free and fair elections.

Related: Why Pakistan and India remain in denial 70 years on from partition

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The Guardian view on London’s garden bridge: a worthless vanity project | Editorial

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 19:01:09 GMT2017-08-14T19:01:09Z

It was supposed to be London’s answer to New York’s High Line. But it left the gap that really needs bridging as wide as ever

The garden bridge project, the superfluous and now abandoned plan to build a Thames crossing in the richest and best connected heart of London, may one day be judged the peak of the capital’s narcissistic hubris. It was a vanity project of a group of cronies that included the then mayor Boris Johnson – the man who is now Britain’s face to the world – with the then chancellor, George Osborne, the celebrity Joanna Lumley and her protege, the designer Thomas Heatherwick, masquerading as public benefactors. Between them, mayor and chancellor were in a position to commit up to £60m of public money, of which nearly £40m has been spent.

It is a measure of the project’s flakiness that, now that the two have moved on, the project has collapsed. A great deal of public money that might have been profitably invested in the cash-starved Midlands and the north has been wasted. But at least the taxpayer has been spared a continuing cost that might have run into further millions, and a folly that would have stood for all that was worst about the chumocracy years of the Cameron era.

Related: London garden bridge project scrapped after costing public £37m

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The Guardian view on Donald Trump and racism: a moral failure that shames America | Editorial

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 18:32:03 GMT2017-08-13T18:32:03Z

No previous US president of modern times would have failed to condemn his country’s white nationalists. This one did

As George W Bush’s speechwriter put it this weekend, it is one of the “difficult but primary duties” of a political leader to speak for a nation in traumatic times. A space shuttle explodes, a school student goes on a shooting spree, a terrorist flies a plane into a building, a hurricane floods a city. When such things happen, Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post, “It falls to the president to express something of the nation’s soul.” Yet if Donald Trump’s words about the violent white extremist mobilisation in Virginia on Saturday – which an under-pressure White House was desperately trying to clarify on Sunday – are an expression of its soul, America may be on the road to perdition.

The original United States of America was built on white supremacy. The US constitution of 1787 treated black slaves as equivalent to three-fifths of a free white and gave no rights at all to Native Americans, who were regarded as belonging to their own nations. After the civil war, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation across the defeated south and comprehensively disfranchised African Americans for nearly a century. Writing Mein Kampf in the 1920s, Adolf Hitler praised America’s institutional racism as a model from which Nazi Germany could learn. Only in the postwar period, and then slowly and incompletely, was meaningful racial equality pursued by the land of the free.

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The Guardian view on Jane Austen: pride not prejudice | Editorial

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 18:26:39 GMT2017-08-13T18:26:39Z

Two hundred years after the novelist’s death, snobbery continues to cloud our celebration of one of Britain’s greatest writers

More than two centuries after readers first met them, Elizabeth and Darcy have yet to grow old. Their story has inspired erotic spinoffs, murder mysteries and a retelling from the servants’ point of view. The much-loved and mostly faithful 1995 Andrew Davies screen adaptation, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, helped birth Bridget Jones’s Diary. Then came the “Hollywood-meets-Bollywood” movie Bride and Prejudice and even a genre mashup with zombie hordes menacing Pemberley.

This last was more apt than it sounds, and not only because Andrea Leadsom briefly resurrected Jane Austen last month, the bicentenary of her death, describing her as one of “our greatest living authors”. Pride and Prejudice is the novel that simply will not die. Twenty million copies on, Mr Darcy has become so synonymous with the romantic hero that when researchers found a pheromone in male mouse urine irresistible to female mice, they named it “darcin”.

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The Observer view on best medical practice for pregnant women | Observer editorial

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 23:07:01 GMT2017-08-12T23:07:01Z

The ideal birth is the one that is safest for mother and baby

The announcement by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) on Saturday that it will finally abandon its “normal birth” campaign is overdue but welcome. By promoting “normal” over medical births, the campaign has for too long dangerously implied that a non-medical birth is superior to one in which doctors are involved. Given that we have had firm evidence for more than two years that, in the very worst cases, normal birth ideology has contributed to the tragic and unnecessary deaths of women and babies, the only question is why it has taken the RCM so long to act.

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The Observer view on North Korea and the role of the UN | Observer editorial

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 23:05:01 GMT2017-08-12T23:05:01Z

Trump’s rhetoric is a danger to the world. Higher authorities must act

Barely a day passes without a reminder of Donald Trump’s unfitness for America’s highest office. The president’s performance during the past week has plumbed new depths of irrationality and ineptitude, even by the low standards he has set since January. Trump’s random, splenetic threats of unlimited military action against North Korea and now, bizarrely, against Venezuela, have exacerbated an already dangerous situation in east Asia. They have raised the real prospect of war, either by design or miscalculation.

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The Guardian view on food safety: the price of eggs | Editorial

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:24:51 GMT2017-08-11T18:24:51Z

An obsession with cheap food distorts the structure of the food industry. There should be more policing and heavier penalties

Because it offers so many opportunities for cheating, buying food requires a basic act of trust. There have been laws protecting food standards since Magna Carta first prescribed weights and measures for grain and wine. Yet food fraud has never gone away; and food crime, defined as deliberately acting against the public interest, is thought to cost the British food industry £11bn a year.

In Victorian times, adulterated flour led to malnutrition. Now it might be honey sweetened with corn syrup. Recently, it has been a great deal worse: barely a fortnight ago, two men were sent to prison for their part in a conspiracy to bulk out minced beef with horsemeat in a conspiracy that stretched across Europe, from Ireland to Poland and Spain to British supermarkets’ cut-price burger offers. This week, millions of eggs and egg products have been withdrawn from sale across Europe and as far afield as Hong Kong for fear that they may have been contaminated with a banned pesticide. The everyday saga of your lunchtime egg mayo sandwich suddenly becomes a cautionary tale of greed, squeezed suppliers, lax regulation and underfunded safeguarding.

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The Guardian view on London 2017: no longer the golden age | Editorial

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:23:15 GMT2017-08-11T18:23:15Z

Hopes that the return to the London Olympic stadium would rekindle the magic of 2012 were always unrealistic

Some of the contests have of course been enthralling sport, and the final two days this weekend will produce more. Yet five years on, and in the same London stadium, it is hard to deny that the 2017 World Athletics Championships have failed to generate the same feelgood force field that the 2012 Olympics so memorably achieved.

There are many reasons – and of course the best should not be the enemy of the good. The Olympics, after all, were a much larger, multi-sport festival; these championships are restricted to athletics. Usain Bolt, poster boy of both events, was still in his glorious pomp five years ago; this time he has been edged out in his swan song. The disgrace of doping, which existed in 2012, has grown worse, embodied not just by the Russian scandal but exposés in Ethiopia and elsewhere. The home team has not prospered on the track or in the field, either. And it has been cold and wet in London this August.

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The Guardian view on nudity: grin and bare it | Editorial

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:19:52 GMT2017-08-11T18:19:52Z

The German tradition of nudist beaches shows us the flawed glory of the human body. It should not be sexualised

The veteran German leftist politician Gregor Gysi wants his compatriots to take off more of their clothes. He is angry that the long German tradition of therapeutic nudity in the open air is being undermined. Only this summer the nudist portion of one of the beaches in Berlin was brutally shortened by the authorities, and the mostly elderly users are furious. They are right. Mr Gysi argues that public nudity can be much less erotic than a bikini and that the beaches he remembers his mother taking him to in his East German youth were places where women of all shapes and ages could enjoy their bodies for their own sake.

It was, he says, the “pornographic gaze” of westerners after reunification that destroyed the pleasure of nude bathing, which had always been more widespread in East Germany and – he claims – something promoted more by women than by men. Of course the east was then a tyranny in which there was little frivolity or choice on offer. For all but the most confidently young and gorgeous it is more fun to choose a bathing costume than to make do with what nature has provided, so in a consumer culture this is now what people do.

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The Guardian view on Operation Sanctuary: ends and means | Editorial

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 18:48:41 GMT2017-08-10T18:48:41Z

The conviction of 18 people involved in the Newcastle sex exploitation gang is welcome. But earlier intervention would have been so much better

One of the reasons for the conviction of 17 men and one woman for their involvement in a sex grooming network in Newcastle was the use of a paid informant who himself is a convicted paedophile. The use of such a person by the police has been widely criticised by organisations such as the NSPCC that otherwise would be expected to cheer the careful and effective way the network was uncovered, its victims supported – to the point where 20 of them felt able to give evidence – and so many prosecutions were secured. It was a remarkable operation: 278 victims were identified, four trials resulted in convictions for 93 offences, and now 18 defendants face long prison sentences.

Northumbria’s chief constable, Steve Ashman, is unrepentant about the use of the informant. The man, known as XY, did not give evidence in court, and Mr Ashman insists he was used only for his familiarity with the habits of the network, which was an organised criminal gang that in addition to abusing vulnerable girls and young women also trafficked drugs.

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The Guardian view on oral history: the power of witness | Editorial

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 18:42:08 GMT2017-08-10T18:42:08Z

Great historic moments are brought to life with vivid authority by the personal testimony of those who were there

This August is a month of anniversaries – the 100th year since the opening barrage was fired at Passchendaele, and 70 years since Indian independence and the terrible trauma of partition. And the narrative of each historic event has been illustrated by the voices of people, mostly long dead, who lived through it. The magical power, the tingle, of hearing the authentic voice, catching each pause, the particular pitch of bravado and the tone of remembered horror: this is not the history of document and textbook, it is not the word of money or power; it is what happened to working men and women.

Oral history, the collection of the reminiscences of ordinary people as a valued part of the story of a time or an event told from the perspective of those who were caught up in it rather than from the view of the elite that orchestrated it, is younger than either of the two anniversaries commemorated this month. It has developed only since the 1950s, dependent on portable recording equipment and an appetite for a new, democratic history pioneered by Charles Parker’s radio ballads. He, with the folk musicians and activists Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, recorded the working lives of fishermen and steelworkers, railmen and miners, and the women who worked alongside them. They produced a series of radio documentaries quite unlike anything the BBC had ever produced before: a mix of voice and song with nothing else to break the spell of time and place.

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The Guardian view on premature deaths: inequality kills | Editorial

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 19:16:14 GMT2017-08-09T19:16:14Z

England’s northerners are dying younger at far higher rates than their southern counterparts. This is a result of an unequal society with a withered state unable to level life’s playing field

Has England’s north-south divide turned into a deadly one? If the latest research on premature deaths is to be believed, it certainly seems so. Researchers from Manchester University looked at the death rates of two groups of 25 million people either side of a line from the Wash to the Severn estuary. Above the line “northerners” between the ages of 25 to 44 died in much greater numbers than “southerners” below it. The figures are staggering: in the age group 25-34 years nearly a third more northerners died. For those aged between 35 and 44 the mortality rate was 50% higher among northerners. This gap is a modern phenomenon: in 1995 regional mortality converged to within a whisker.

The reasons for the differing rates of death are not, perhaps, as surprising as the causes. Young people die from “diseases of despair” – those associated with drug overdoses, suicides and alcoholism. These blight regions unequally: the north-east had the highest drugs-related mortality rate, 77 per 1 million people. In London the comparable figure is just 32. While the north represents 30% of the population of England, it includes 50% of the poorest neighbourhoods – and a rapid increase in suicides from 2008, concentrated in areas of high unemployment, contributes to higher premature death rates.

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The Guardian view on North Korea: careless talk costs credibility, and perhaps lives | Editorial

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 19:09:55 GMT2017-08-09T19:09:55Z

Donald Trump’s warnings of ‘fire and fury’ will only make it harder to tackle the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme

It is not reassuring when the US secretary of state has to reassure his country that it is not on the brink of war. “I think Americans should sleep well at night,” Rex Tillerson told reporters on Wednesday. He was playing down the incendiary words of his president, who had promised “fire and fury like the world has never seen” in response not to an attack but to mere threats from North Korea. It was “language designed to send a strong message” to Pyongyang, Mr Tillerson said.

A few hours later, the defense secretary, James Mattis, weighed in: North Korea should cease “actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people … [it] would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates”. Starker words than Mr Tillerson’s, but similarly designed to shift towards a more traditional message of deterrence: actions (not just threats) have consequences. Most likely this storm will soon pass. The armistice has held since 1953. The dire warnings after China and others joined the nuclear club proved unfounded. The previous North Korea crises have fizzled out; not least because nuclear weapons concentrate most minds.

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