As expected, the five nations surrounding the Caspian Sea (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan) signed the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan on Sunday, creating some broad rules for governing the vast…well, it seems like a really big lake to me but what do I know? The Caspian was mostly treated as a lake until the fall of the Soviet Union left five nations along its shores where previously there had only been two. Now things are all complicated. Should the Caspian be treated as international waters? Should it be split into national zones? What about rights to drill for fossil fuels and to run oil and gas pipelines under it to deliver Central Asian energy reserves to Europe without going through Russia? For some time now Russia has been driving the ad hoc answers to those questions–respectively: no, no, and fuck you guys if you think you’re going to muscle in on our “selling energy to Europe” racket.
The convention seems to be a bit of a hybrid. The Caspian will not be treated as international waters for military purposes–only the five nations surrounding it have the right to put warships in it, which means the Russian navy will control it. But neither will each country be limited to its own national sector of the lake/sea–which, again, means that the Russian navy will control it. The seabed, on the other hand, and its sweet energy resources/pipeline throughways will be split into national sectors. Any pipeline plan will require the approval only of those countries whose sectors will be crossed, though all five nations will have some input on environmental issues. Russia’s stance on the pipeline appears to have softened because, with Chinese assistance, Central Asian countries have already started shipping their fossil fuels south and east to get around Russia anyway, and at least a trans-Caspian pipeline won’t benefit China.
The convention seems to be a little less comprehensive than many observers expected, and a lot of major details still remain to be worked out. The countries haven’t actually drawn the seabed borders yet, for example, and there are questions about whether one Caspian nation should be allowed to use its waters in ways that hurt another (for example, the US has a deal in place to ship military cargo between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which in the current climate could be argued is bad for Iran). Once those details are worked out, you can still expect lots of fun arguments about exactly where pipelines should go and about which gas deposits sit under which country’s territorial seabed, and I’m sure at least some of these arguments will get heated enough that we’ll start to wonder if they’re going to turn into full-blown conflicts. But hey, it’s either this or [shudder] some hippie shit like solar power or whatever, so clearly it’s this.
An estimated 15,000 people turned out in Bucharest on Sunday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă and her Social Democratic government over corruption. The protests were peaceful. It was the third straight night of protests and the smallest of the group–100,000 people protested on Friday and were met with police violence, while 40,000 protested peacefully on Saturday.
Montenegrin authorities are calling for the arrest and extradition of former CIA operative Joseph Assad for allegedly helping the Russians to attempt a coup against the Montenegrin government in 2016. Fourteen people are currently on trial over the alleged coup, which was ostensibly meant to keep Montenegro out of NATO. Assad was apparently in Montenegro in 2016 working security for a political consultant working for a pro-Russia political organization, but he denies any involvement in any coup plot.
The BBC reports on the Peruvian city of Cerro de Pasco, which it says may be the most polluted city on the planet:
In a bit of inspired trolling, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said on Saturday that he would welcome FBI assistance in the investigation into the assassination attempt that was made against him last weekend. Maduro has said he believes Venezuelan exiles in the US were involved in the plot, and the US government has promised to cooperate with any investigation, but Maduro’s statement notwithstanding it doesn’t appear that the US has made an offer to help with the investigation.
New cables have been released, under a Freedom of Information Act request, that add new detail to reports of the use of torture back in the 2000s at a CIA black site facility in Thailand run by none other than current agency director Gina Haspel:
As interrogators splashed water on the chest of the man, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, he pleaded that he was trying to recall more information, according to a newly released C.I.A. cable. As he cried, the cable reports, the “water treatment was applied.”
The “water treatment” was bureaucratic jargon for waterboarding, and 11 newly released top-secret cables from the time that Gina Haspel, now the C.I.A. director, oversaw the base provide at times graphic detail on the techniques the agency used to brutally interrogate Qaeda captives. Agency leaders and officers were racing to uncover what they feared were large-scale plots against the United States in the chaotic months and years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
As the chief of the base, Ms. Haspel would have written or authorized the cables, according to Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, a research organization at George Washington University. The cables, obtained by the archive in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, were redacted to eliminate the names of interrogators and C.I.A. officers involved.
Finally, Fellow Travelers has published an important piece from Michael Youhana on the other big nebulous War the United States is fighting along side the War on Terror–the War on Weapons States:
Much like the War on Terror, the War on Weapon States remains a salient organizing narrative for American foreign policy during the Trump era. The narrative’s force is apparent in Mike Pompeo’s boast that Iran is due for “the strongest sanctions in history.” Earlier this year, the War on Weapon States also inspired terrifying calls for preemptive war with North Korea. While tensions on the Korean Peninsula have abated for the moment, they may flare up once more under this president or another if our foreign policy consensus is left unchallenged.
Distinguishing between the War on Weapon States and arms control more generally is imperative. The former is a neoteric, imperial call to arms; the latter is a century-old diplomatic project to create a more humane world order. The sole concern of proponents of the War on Weapons States is the defeat of autocracies with “deep grievances against the West;” an effective movement for disarmament would seek to demilitarize all states, including Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, the United Kingdom, and, yes, the United States.
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