World update: March 19 2018


The World Bank anticipates over 140 million people around the world being displaced by climate change by 2050. The majority, 86 million, would be in sub-Saharan Africa, with another 40 million in South Asia. Assuming that humanity isn’t going to do anything serious to arrest climate change, and it’s pretty clear we’re not, now would be the time to begin planning for these displacements in order to minimize their disruption, or to implement economic reforms and infrastructure improvements that could reduce the number of people who have to pick up and move. But what’s really neat about humanity is that we’re probably not going to do any of those things either. Strap in, it’s going to be a fun few decades.



A bomb exploded just after a rally in Jalalabad that had featured warlord-turned-politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on Monday, killing at least three people. No one has claimed responsibility, and Jalalabad is in Nangarhar province, where both the Taliban and ISIS are possible culprits.

Speaking of Nangarhar, seven civilians were killed there on Saturday in what appears to have been a botched anti-Taliban raid on Saturday night. Two farmers were gunned down in their fields by an Afghan helicopter crew, while security forces raided a nearby mosque where they believed Taliban fighters were hiding, and in the process killed five more civilians. An eighth local civilian was killed by Afghan police during a protest over the initial seven killings. NATO’s Resolute Support command says that the raid killed several Taliban fighters and captured 20 more, but residents of the area dispute all of that.


The Philippine government has formally submitted its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, which will take effect in March 2019. Rodrigo Duterte, who made the decision to withdraw from the ICC because the ICC is investigating his anti-drug/mass execution program for possible human rights violations, is now trying to encourage other countries to withdraw from the court, citing its “rudeness.” No, seriously.


Xi Jinping engineered the promotion of another close adviser to a top post in the Chinese government on Monday, appointing Liu He as as vice premier for financial and industrial policy. Liu’s appointment reflects further consolidation of power by Xi but also a sense that Xi intends to rein in a financial system that may be growing too fast–and borrowing too much–for its long-term good.

James Dorsey argues that China’s frequently onerous Belt and Road loan conditions are threatening to create a backlash against the program:

Steep commercial terms for China’s investment in infrastructure projects across Eurasia related to its Belt and Road initiative may give it control of key ports and other assets as recipients of Beijing’s largess find themselves trapped in debt. Yet, that comes with a risky price tag: potentially rising anti-Chinese sentiment, questioning of Chinese intentions, and a tarnishing of the image China is seeking to cultivate.


Cynically dubbed debt-trap diplomacy, multiple countries along China’s Belt and Road risk financial crisis. The Washington-based Center for Global Development recently warned that 23 of the 68 countries involved were “significantly or highly vulnerable to debt distress.”

Beijing may be using this debt as a lever to gain control of partners’ internal affairs, but for Belt and Road to succeed it may have to ease the pain those partners are feeling.

Several outlets began reporting Monday evening that Donald Trump will impose a $60 billion tariff package against multiple Chinese products by the end of the week. The tariffs will be tied to violations of US intellectual property rights:

Senior aides had presented Trump with a $30 billion tariff package that would apply to a range of products, but Trump directed them to roughly double the scope of the new trade levies. The package could be applied to more than 100 products, which Trump argues were developed by using trade secrets the Chinese stole from U.S. companies or forced them to hand over in exchange for access to its massive market.

Obviously it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Trump will rethink this by Friday, so it might be best to wait and see what he actually unveils.



This French territory could be an independent state soon. New Caledonia’s Congress has set November 4 as the date for an independence referendum. French President Rudyard Kipling Emmanuel Macron has said that he believes only a continued French presence can “guarantee peace and development” in New Caledonia, but a 1998 agreement permitted the territory to hold an independence referendum within the next 20 years so there’s not much Macron can do about it.



Two men believed to be affiliated with the extremist group Jund al-Khilafa (also sometimes known as ISIS’s “Algeria Province”) were killed in a battle with Tunisian security forces near the Libyan border on Monday. One of the men was killed by police while the second appears to have blown himself up.


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited Cairo on Monday, where he endorsed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for president (boy, that could really blow that race open) and he and Sisi both pledged to work together to ease mutual tensions. Egypt and Sudan are at odds over border issues, over Sudan’s relationship with Turkey, and over the potential impacts of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam.



With the votes in and totaled, it looks like a stunning victory for the virtually unopposed Vladimir Putin in Sunday’s Russian presidential election. With turnout at a respectable 67 percent, Putin brought in a whopping 76.7 percent of the vote. Sure, he may have had some illicit help getting to both of those numbers:

But ultimately there’s no way to make any allegations of vote-rigging matter, so there’s little sense in dwelling on it.

The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen explains the awful choices that confronted all Russians with respect to Sunday’s festivities–whether to vote, to boycott, or to work as an election monitor to try to eliminate fraud:

None of these options was good. Boycotting meant forfeiting the Russian citizens’ one chance to engage with politics. Voting, even protest-voting for Sobchak, served to legitimize the election and, in particular, to affirm Putin’s right to pick his own opponents. Volunteering as an election observer, while it might have helped keep a single precinct marginally cleaner, also lent legitimacy to the farce that Russians call an “election.” There was no right thing to do on Sunday, and at least three wrong things to do.

The BBC correctly described Western reaction to Putin’s anticlimactic win as “muted,” though it wasn’t so muted that Western leaders didn’t immediately feel the urge to start lecturing Putin on what he simply must do now. Putin supporters trolled/credited the West for his big win, saying that Western hostility united the Russian people behind their leader.


There’s been another Brexit Breakthrough™ made possible by the British government caving in to the European Union. The two sides announced on Monday that they’d come to an agreement on “a large part” of a post-Brexit transition agreement for the UK that will cushion the economic blow caused by its withdrawal from the EU’s common market and customs zone. The catch is that London had to agree to the EU’s fallback position on Northern Ireland, which is that, absent some other, better arrangement, come Brexit time Northern Ireland will remain in the single market and customs union in order to facilitate a soft Irish border. The British government just pitched a fit over this very same proposal three weeks ago, so at least they seem to be getting more efficient about surrendering to Brussels the more often they do it.

Also too, Monday’s announcement makes it clear that the British government has also caved on the role of the European Court of Justice in handling cases related to EU nationals in the UK. “Interference” from European courts was cited as one of the reasons why Britain had to leave the union, but now that “interference” is going to continue anyway.



This evening marks the 15th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, and despite its calamitous results, as Slate’s Joshua Keating writes, America hasn’t learned a thing:

Fifteen years ago today, George W. Bush announced the beginning of the Iraq war. Two U.S. presidents, thousands of lives lost, a withdrawal and a reengagement later, American troops are still on the ground—and dying—in Iraq. There are no plans for withdrawal, even though the most recent foe there—ISIS—has been almost entirely defeated.


The conflict in Iraq is just one facet of an ever-expanding and seemingly endless U.S. military campaign across the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Last week, the White House, as required by a new provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, issued a report to Congress on all the countries where ongoing U.S. military operations are taking place. According to the unclassified portion of the report, America is currently at war in seven countries

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