World update: June 15 2018

Eid Mubarak!

ASIA

UZBEKISTAN

Maybe Uzbekistan isn’t at the top of your world tourism list. I get that. Parts of the country are supposed to be amazing, like Samarkand. On the other hand, their last president had that whole “boiling people to death” thing happening. But if the change in leadership hasn’t convinced you to check the place out, maybe they can entice you with the chance to…buy a gold bar? Sure, what the hell.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban’s three day Eid ceasefire kicked in on Friday, leading to the nearly unthinkable: Taliban fighters celebrating with Afghans of all stripes, including police and soldiers, across the country. There were no reports of any ceasefire violations, and there are even hopes on the government’s side that the ceasefire could be extended past its initial three days. That seems like a long shot, but maybe once everybody gets a taste of peace they won’t want to go back to fighting.

PAKISTAN

That US drone strike on Afghanistan’s Kunar province earlier this week did apparently kill its target, Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah. The departed Fazlullah had been running the Pakistani Taliban since 2013 and is one of the most notorious men in the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier area, with the blood of hundreds of people, many of them children, on his hands. He was the third Pakistani Taliban leader and the third to be killed in a US drone strike. The organization will no doubt replace him, but successful decapitation strikes can frequently lead to splintering, especially in a particularly splinter-prone group like the Pakistani Taliban.

Maulana_Fazlullah
Fazlullah in 2008 (Wikimedia)

INDIA

Here’s more evidence that we’re entering an age of water crises:

India is facing its worst-ever water crisis, with some 600 million people facing acute water shortage, a government think-tank says.

The Niti Aayog report, which draws on data from 24 of India’s 29 states, says the crisis is “only going to get worse” in the years ahead.

It also warns that 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020 despite increasing demand.

This would also threaten food security as 80% of water is used in agriculture.

Add India to South Africa and Iraq on the list of countries at critical risk.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The Chinese navy conducted military exercises in the South China Sea this week. That should help reduce tensions.

CHINA

Speaking of reducing tensions, Donald Trump unveiled his $50 billion tariff package on Chinese imports on Friday, and China responded in kind. Which could in turn spur another US response. The US sanctions will apply mostly to high-tech industries–robotics, aerospace, communications, etc.

NORTH KOREA

Pyongyang has already created a “documentary film” (i.e., propaganda video) on this week’s Trump-Kim Jong-un summit in Singapore:

Ever since Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, began his diplomatic outreach this spring, meeting the presidents of China and South Korea, North Korea has used it to glorify him as a pioneering peacemaker.

But for propaganda purposes, nothing beats a meeting with the president of the United States.

A documentary film released by North Korea makes the most of this week’s Singapore summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump, which was the first-ever meeting between the leaders of two nations that have been sworn enemies for seven decades.

SOUTH KOREA

The South Korean government says that US troop presence in that country is not subject to negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, because Seoul gets a say in the matter as well. Trump has repeatedly expressed an interest in getting US forces out of South Korea, but it does not appear that he blurted out anything about that while he was meeting with Kim.

EUROPE

At Foreign Policy, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj and Axel Hellman tackle the question of how European governments can protect their companies from US sanctions:

Just a few days after U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, France’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, gave several interviews in which he stressed that European leaders would be asking themselves, “What can we do to give Europe more financial tools allowing it to be independent from the United States?” Le Maire specifically pointed to the U.S. Treasury’s fearsome Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions and has levied billions of dollars’ worth of fines on companies such as BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered Bank, and the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. He wondered aloud, “Why don’t we create the same type of agency in Europe, capable of following the activities of foreign companies and checking if they are respecting European decisions?”

The comment seemed flippant, an economy minister’s way of expressing frustration, and was not viewed as a policy that Europe was about to seriously consider. Yet, a few weeks later, European leaders are still scrambling to implement concrete measures to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, whether by sustaining oil purchases from Iran, instructing the European Investment Bank to make financing available for projects in Iran, or attempting to help multinationals and small and medium-sized enterprises maintain their Iran operations. But consultations with government officials, business leaders, and technical experts make it clear that pursuing individual measures in isolation will be insufficient to mitigate the chilling effect of secondary sanctions imposed by the United States on companies which had sought commercial links with Iran. Europe needs a holistic and institutionalized strategy to push back and achieve two crucial goals.

Their conclusion is that Le Maire is right: Europe does need its own OFAC.

GERMANY

Angela Merkel is refusing to buckle to demands from her Christian Social Union coalition partner that she take a unilateral, hardline stance on migrants ahead of a European Union meeting on the issue later this month, even though it might cost Merkel her chancellorship. CSU leader Horst Seehofer, Merkel’s interior minister, seems to be preparing to implement a new migrant policy regardless of whether or not she OKs it. The Bavaria-based CSU is tacking right to fend of a challenge in that state from the fascist-adjacent Alternative for Germany.

SPAIN

Foreign Policy In Focus’s Conn Hallinan wonders if new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez can move his Socialist Party out of the neoliberal center and get back to its left wing roots for the good of both the party and the country:

Education, health care, and infrastructure have all deteriorated under a blizzard of budget cuts, and Sanchez will have to address those problems. His party’s record on the economy, however, has been more centrist than social democratic, and the PSOE basically accepts the neo-liberal mantra of tax cuts, deregulation, and privatization. It was PSOE Prime Minister Jose Zapatero who sliced more than $17 billion from the budget in 2010, froze pensions, cut child care funds and home care for the elderly, and passed legislation making it easier to lay off workers.

It was anger at the Socialists over rising unemployment that swept Rajoy and the PP into power in 2011. The PSOE has never recovered from that debacle, dropping from 44 percent of the vote to 24.9 percent today. It has only 84 deputies in the Parliament, just 14 more than Podemos.

When Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias proposed forming a government of the left, Sanchez rejected it and instead appointed all PSOE people to the cabinet. However, he will have to rely on support from the left to stay in power, and there’s no guarantee that it will be there unless the Socialists step away from their centrism and begin rolling back the austerity measures.

Sánchez has announced plans to bring back a policy that provided free health care to undocumented immigrants, so that’s a start.

AMERICAS

UNITED STATES

This has been building for some time, but multiple outlets reported on Friday that the Trump administration will be pulling the US out of the United Nations Human Rights Council imminently. The reason, of course, is Israel–the US believes that the council spends a disproportionate amount of time on Israeli human rights abuses, and to be fair Israel is the only country in the world whose human rights issues the council discusses at each session, as its permanent “agenda item 7.” But instead of, say, encouraging Israel to stop abusing Palestinian human rights on a nearly daily basis, they’re blaming the council. A US withdrawal will, of course, free the council up to spend even more time on Israeli human rights abuses–when the Obama administration joined the council, after the Bush administration had abandoned it, the amount of time the council spent on Israeli issues actually went down.

The Trump administration is yanking the US out of international organizations as fast as it can, and frankly that’s probably a good thing. While losing US funding will hurt, the more these institutions can be insulated from the United States in the age of Donald Trump, the better off they’ll be. Maybe the Human Rights Council could even start taking a more frequent look at human rights violations in the United States.

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