World update: February 10-11 2018



Taliban fighters killed six Afghan policemen late Friday night in an attack on several checkpoints in Helmand province.

Meanwhile, residents of Kabul are living in fear of more terrorist attacks and anger, not just at the Taliban and ISIS but also at their own inept government:

It is not only the shock of triple terrorist attacks that took 150 lives within 10 days last month — an ambulance-borne suicide bomb, a hilltop raid on a luxury hotel and a commando attack on a military academy. It is not only the visible heightening of security that followed — armed men on corners, roads blocked for official convoys and turreted military vehicles parked outside foreign and government compounds.


It is something else in the frigid winter air — a deeper sense of anxiety that things are out of control, that the government is failing to serve the public and consumed by political power struggles. People fear the destructive menace of the Taliban and the Islamic State, but their anger is directed at leaders, especially President Ashraf Ghani, who many feel have abandoned them.


At least nine people–five Indian soldiers, three militants, and one civilian–have been killed during a weekend-long attack on an Indian military camp near the city of Jammu. To be honest I’m not sure where this story stands at the moment, because the most recent news I’ve seen is hours old but says the attackers are still holed up somewhere on the base.


James Mattis says that, when it comes to the US-South Korea relationship, “there is no wedge that can be driven between us by North Korea.” And sure, that’s most likely true, but it doesn’t mean they can’t help Donald Trump drive a wedge in there. Which is what they seem to be trying to do. Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, has been putting on a charm offensive at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, including an invitation from her brother for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to go to Pyongyang for talks with the North Korean leader. Meanwhile Mike Pence is acting like a cranky baby in contrast. Your choices are simple here–either you suck it up and start talking to the North Koreans or you continue on the glide path to war–a war, by the way, that will be far worse on the Korean people than it will be on Americans. If the Trump administration is going to refuse the former then they’ll by default be pursuing the latter. And that’s where the wedge comes from.



Al Jazeera looks at the growing calls for democratic reform in Senegal heading into the 2019 presidential election:


South African President Jacob Zuma may be out of a job as soon as this week. African National Congress leaders are meeting on Monday to “finalize” Zuma’s future, according to party leader (and presumptive heir apparent) Cyril Ramaphosa. The party could, in theory, force Zuma from office, but it would likely involve an ugly political fight.

In good news, drought-stricken Cape Town got a little bit of rain on Friday. It was only about a third of an inch, but people were able to store some of it for watering plants, cleaning, etc. The city is still due to run out of water on May 11 unless the rains start falling in earnest.



A Saratov Airlines passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Moscow on Sunday, killing all 71 people on board. I mention this here only insofar as there are obviously questions about whether this was a terrorist incident. At this point however that doesn’t seem to be a focus of the investigation.


Angela Merkel is trying to convince her conservatives that she didn’t give away the store by letting the Social Democrats control the finance ministry in a still-theoretical governing coalition:

She sought to allay fears among conservatives that, by ceding the finance ministry, the next government would stray from the strict fiscal discipline enforced by the former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. “It was a very conscious decision at one point [during negotiations] to say ‘yes’ this works, even though I know and I myself felt it was painful,” Merkel said. “I want to say that the we [the conservatives] have also approved the policies [in the agreement] and the finance minister cannot simply do as he likes.”


Some conservatives are unhappy with her decision to allow the SPD to spend a record budget surplus and to embrace their demands for European reform.


The SPD has criticised the “forced austerity” inflicted by Schäuble on southern European countries such as Greece and had vowed in the election campaign to boost investment.

I think you have to allow for the possibility that this show of “convincing” the conservatives to go along with her coalition deal is partly political theater on Merkel’s part. Her big concern is still getting the Social Democrats to approve the deal when the whole party votes on it, and the more she can show that the conservatives are really unhappy with the arrangement the better it’s likely to be received by SPD members.


Tracking the provenance of unexploded World War II ordinance is kind of a weird interest of mine, though I guess it’s not that weird in that one of these days people could be killed by some of this stuff. But anyway, another WWII bomb was discovered on Sunday, this time at the London City Airport. The airport has been shut down indefinitely  (likely most or all of the day on Monday) while the device is removed.



Finally, Georgetown’s Anatol Lieven argues that the only way to get conservatives to internalize the threat of climate change is by letting the US military lead the way:

This is because the most promising avenue to convince conservative American voters and to generate genuinely serious action in the United States against climate change would be to firmly establish the link between global warming and critical issues of national security. The threat should be obvious, but even before Donald Trump took office, the security elites in the United States and other major countries had not yet really integrated it into their thinking. Thus the vast majority of reporting and analysis of security issues in the Persian Gulf relates to classical security threats: the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the geopolitical and religious rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, and so on.


Almost unnoticed by security institutions has been a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which states that by the last quarter of this century, climate change is likely to make it impossible for people in the Persian Gulf and South Asia to operate in the open for much of the year due to a combination of extreme heat waves and humidity. South Asia is currently home to the largest concentration of people in the world, many of them engaged in agriculture. If the MIT forecast proves true, what will future historians say about the current security preoccupations of the Gulf and South Asian governments and their Western allies?

Lieven is right, I think, when he argues that far too little work has been done into understanding the vast national security implications posed by climate change. He’s also right that pretty much the only way you’re going to get the MAGA crowd interested in this issue is for the military to start talking about those implications–particularly the ones that involve large numbers of people from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and the Pacific being displaced when their homelands become totally unsuited to sustaining human life. Most of those people hate immigrants, so there’s your hook–and in truth, mass migration is inherently destabilizing, not least because it heightens prejudice and leads to the election of people like Donald Trump.

But I would say that if we’re at the point where only the military can save us from climate change, then we’re probably past the point of saving. If there was ever a time when the Pentagon worried about long-term threats, we’re no longer living in it. Nowadays the only real threat that seems to occupy the Pentagon’s attention is the threat that its budget might get cut. Or, rather, that its contractors’ budgets might get cut. I guess you could throw an extra $100 billion or so a year at the Pentagon for dealing with climate change, but even that isn’t going to really turn anybody on unless you can also figure out how to funnel that money out to defense contractors.

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2 thoughts on “World update: February 10-11 2018

  1. Senegal is a toughie. Current President Mackie Sall is kinda authoritarian and amassed a monstrous fortune back when he was Prime Minister for former President Wade. OTOH, it’s really hard to take Karim Wade (son of the former President) seriously as an opposition leader — his father was also authoritarian and corrupt, and sought to cling to power indefinitely, and Wade _fils_ was the anointed crown prince, and he has a monstrous fortune of his own.

    There are also ethnic and religious cross-currents which I’ll admit I don’t understand. Senegal is roughly 70% Muslim, maybe 15% Mouride (Muslims but also their own special thing) and maybe 10% Catholic, but the Catholics still hold a disproportionate amount of social and economic high ground. The biggest ethnic group by far is the Wolof, and a lot of politics is either Wolof internal politics or the other groups responding to fear of Wolof dominance. (This gets completely glossed over by Senegalese nationalism, of course — a party based explicitly on ethnicity would be as unthinkable as a party based explicitly on race in the US.)

    Anyway. In an African context, it’s usually cheap and lazy to say “they’re all corrupt”. But, hum.

    Doug M.

  2. I haven’t read the Lieven article. But I have wondered why Republicans seem uninterested in what (I’ve read) is apparently consensus among DOD leadership: that climate change will be a huge national security problem. Trump made such a big deal about “listening to the generals” or whatever. I think you’re right that it would just pave the way for the US to pursue climate change with military force. When your only tool is a hammer….

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