World update: June 13 2018

ASIA

GEORGIA

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned on Wednesday. He’d been mired in a series of disagreements with billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who awkwardly reassumed leadership of Kvirikashvili’s Georgian Dream party (which Ivanishvili founded in 2012) and has been meddling in the government’s work ever since. Ivanishvili’s return to active politics has coincided with a series of major anti-government demonstrations in Tblisi, and the combination made Kvirikashvili’s position untenable.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban issued an end-of-Ramadan message on Wednesday that called on US forces to leave Afghanistan and predicted ” a bright future for our country accompanied by peace and prosperity” once they do. The Taliban have declared their first-ever ceasefire to coincide with the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which–assuming everybody’s moon sightings are correct, should begin on Friday.

PAKISTAN

The Diplomat’s Umair Jamal games out Pakistan’s July 25 election and argues that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is the likely favorite, but it has to overcome some powerful headwinds:

Currently, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which just concluded its term in office, appears to be a strong contender when it comes to forming the next government at the federal level. However, the party’s internal divisions, which may not have become public, are likely to cost it a large number of seats on election day. The party has not only lost major political heavyweights to other parties, but is also facing an internal succession crisis, which is only going to widen when the election period is over. The party’s former interior minister has decided to contest the next general election as an independent candidate, offering validation to already rampant fears that groupings in the party have developed to serious levels.

The PML-N’s internal divisions are only compounded by the military as well as the judiciary’s aversion toward the party’s leadership. During the last couple of years, both institutions have gone to lengths to not only question the PML-N’s governance priorities but have also made efforts to isolate the party’s role in national politics. Despite such efforts on the part of these two major state institutions, PML-N still remains relatively strong in terms of electoral politics. While the party should not be expected to produce a clear majority in the parliament, it should be able to attain an adequate number of National Assembly (NA) seats to become part of any negotiations to form the next government.

CAMBODIA

The US Treasury Department on Wednesday announced that it’s sanctioning Hing Bun Hieng, the commander of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard. That bodyguard unit has been involved in multiple human rights violations over the past couple of decades, and sanctioning its boss is a way for the US to signal disapproval at Hun Sen’s behavior without sanctioning Hun Sen himself.

CHINA

According to journalist Charles Rollet, Chinese firms backed by heavyweight Western investors are reaping the benefits of China’s crackdown against its Uyghur population in Xinjiang, which has provided them an opportunity to develop and test advanced surveillance gear:

For [Uyghur] detainees and for millions of others, this Chinese experiment in technological control has transformed Xinjiang into an Orwellian prison state. But for Chinese surveillance companies, it has turned the area into something else altogether: a lucrative market and a laboratory to test the latest gadgetry. The companies include some of the leaders in their field, often backed by Western investors and suppliers, according to analysts and activists who follow the plight of the Uighurs. Their research on the issue raises the grim prospect that many people around the world are profiting from some of China’s worst human rights abuses.

NORTH KOREA

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Trump administration wants North Korea to undertake “major disarmament” activities by the end of his boss’s first and, hopefully, only term in office. Weird that Trump and Kim Jong-un left that out of their summit agreement. Weirder still that on Tuesday Trump was talking about North Korea disarming “right away” while Pompeo on Wednesday is talking about major progress within two and a half years. While North Korean media spent Wednesday crowing about major concessions like the end of joint US-South Korean military exercises and (they claim) an agreement from Trump that any disarmament should be done in phases alongside progressive sanctions relief, this conjecture from Pompeo is really the only thing the Trump administration has going for itself with respect to its spin on Tuesday’s summit. Pompeo also said that North Korea will not get any sanctions relief until complete denuclearization (whatever that means), seemingly contradicting those North Korea reports about phased sanctions relief.

Pompeo, by the way, had a conniption fit on Wednesday when a reporter asked him why the administration’s insistence on “Complete, Verified, Irreversible Denuclearization” (CVID) had been shrunk to “Complete Denuclearization” (CD?) in the summit agreement. Pompeo angrily insisted that “‘complete’ encompasses verifiable and irreversible,” which of course makes it a little odd that the administration has been blathering on about CVID all this time, unless they just enjoy being redundant. No matter, though, because Trump now insists that he’s solved everything:

Nothing about North Korea or its nuclear arsenal has changed since Tuesday. The only think that’s different is that Trump isn’t openly pondering what would happen if he were to nuke Pyongyang. If there’s no longer a Nuclear Threat (sic), then it’s because Trump himself has decided to stop threatening to use nukes.

SOUTH KOREA

Unsurprisingly, conservatives in South Korea are very displeased with Tuesday’s summit and they’re aiming their displeasure at South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose energetic diplomacy made the summit possible. Most of these folks don’t support any diplomacy with Pyongyang so this is unsurprising. But Trump did kind of hang Moon out to dry by making at least one and possibly two very large concessions to Kim while receiving only a “thank you for your interest in denuclearization, we promise we’ll definitely look into that” in return.

AFRICA

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopia’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, a member–and until very recently the most dominant member–of the country’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition, is challenging two of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s biggest initiatives: his decision to accept, finally, a 2000 peace agreement with Eritrea and his move to privatize parts of the Ethiopian economy. The TPLF isn’t rejecting those initiatives but says it wants the coalition to discuss them, and it may even be doing that for show, so it doesn’t lose support among the Tigrayan community.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Former DRC Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba had his 2016 International Criminal Court war crimes conviction overturned on appeal last week. He’d been sentenced to 18 years in prison over charges that a militia under his command committed war crimes in the Central African Republic, but the appellate panel determined that he had tried to prevent those crimes and was simply unable to do so. This is a blow to the ICC, which didn’t have many accomplishments to its name before Bemba’s conviction was tossed, and an interesting development for DRC politics, because Bemba may now be a or even the frontrunner heading into December’s presidential election.

EUROPE

REPUBLIC OF NORTH MACEDONIA (?)

Well there’s already a hitch in Macedonia’s plan to change its name to “The Republic of North Macedonia” to appease Greece. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov says he will not approve the name change–which doesn’t matter very much. Ivanov’s veto will trigger a second vote on any name change bill in parliament, but if it passes a second time he cannot obstruct it any further. Ivanov’s motives are more political than principled–he’s affiliated with the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party that controlled Macedonia from 2006 through 2017 before it was forced from power in a scandal and replaced by current Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats. VMRO-DPMNE is opposed to a name change but more to the point it’s opposed to Zaev, who negotiated the name agreement with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

GREECE

Tsipras, by the way, is also feeling a good deal of domestic political heat over the agreement because it allows North Macedonia to keep using the name “Macedonia” in some capacities (its language and people can both be called “Macedonian,” for example). If there is a fatal objection to this deal, it seems more likely to come from the Greek side than from the Macedonian side.

ITALY

The new Italian government already has its first major European feud, with France. After Italy’s refusal to accept a boat carrying migrants rescued from the Mediterranean earlier this week, Paris and Rome have been sniping at one another over migrants, and now you have Austria’s hard right government working with the far right in Germany and Italy to form an…”axis of the willing” to oppose the European Union’s migration policies. No, seriously, they’re really calling it an “axis”:

In Germany, the hardline interior minister, Horst Seehofer, pulled out of an integration summit hosted by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, saying Berlin should cooperate with Vienna and Rome in combating illegal immigration.

Seehofer, of the Bavarian conservative CSU party, met Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz. He declared his support for Kurz’s proposal for a three-way “axis of the willing” with Italy to fight illegal migration.

Kurz, who leads a coalition government with the far-right Freedom party, said a growing number of European governments were now agreed on the need to curb uncontrolled migration and crack down on people trafficking.

A German-Austrian-Italian axis of countries that hate non-whites as official policy. How fucking on the nose can you get?

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Colombian officials estimate that over one million Venezuelan nationals have fled into Colombia over the past 15 months as the political and economic situation in Venezuela has continued to break down.

UNITED STATES

To end on a happy note, it looks like Donald Trump is finally going to get the usable nuclear weapons he’s long wanted:

The new low-yield nuclear warheads that President Trump wants to add to the American arsenal look poised to receive backing from Congress, despite an outcry from anti-nuclear advocates and attempts by Democratic lawmakers to defund or limit their introduction.

The addition of the warheads to ballistic-missile submarines has become the most controversial element of the Trump administration’s new nuclear weapons strategy. Critics say the smaller impact of such “battlefield nuclear weapons” makes them more tempting to use in a crisis — therefore lowering the threshold of nuclear war.

But the Trump administration, led by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, rejects that argument and says the U.S. military must place the low-yield warheads on submarines to ensure that Russia realizes it cannot get away with a limited nuclear attack on a U.S. partner or ally.

The “low-yield nuclear weapon” concept is based on the notion that you can have a limited nuclear exchange that doesn’t escalate to full on nuclear war. It’s a fantasy, in other words. But that aside, putting these kinds of weapons in the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has had an unhealthy and pretty much lifelong fixation on nuclear weapons to begin with, is unbelievably stupid.

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