Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

2 January 2018   Leave a comment

In a televised New Year’s Day address, North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, indicated that his country was interested in sending athletes to participate in the Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in South Korea in February.  The move signaled a welcomed change in the behavior of North Korea, but it also was a deliberate attempt to divide South Korea from its ally, the US.  The Trump Administration suggested that the move indicated that its current policy of intense pressure on North Korea was working.  That possibility is real, but its consequence could be that North Korea believes that it can work out a better deal with South Korea and China without US participation.  Scott Snyder suggests that South Korea may be placed in an impossible situation given how much it has invested in hosting a successful Winter Olympics:

“And the gambit appeals directly to Moon’s goals, while trying to force a choice: a peaceful Olympics, or South Korea’s alliance with the United States. As part of his dialogue proposal, Kim explicitly criticized the Moon administration for ‘joining the United States in its reckless moves for a North-targeted nuclear war’ and requested the discontinuation of ‘joint nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces.’ (South Korea and the United States hold regular joint military drills, which North Korea consistently portrays as preparation for an invasion.) But it is Kim himself who wants to hold South Korea’s hosting of the Winter Olympics hostage to his demand for global acknowledgement that the North has (illegally) become a nuclear weapons state.”

There is little question that US allies in the region–South Korea and Japan–as well as the other major powers China and Russia would vastly prefer a solution to the crisis which avoids war, and all these parties may not be as attached the the US objective of the “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula as is the US.  Such an outcome would be perceived as a major defeat by the Trump Administration because it clearly indicates that other parties are willing to accept North Korea’s status as a “nuclear power”.

Whether the US is prepared to accept North Korea as a nuclear power really depends on how much validity the US puts into the theory of deterrence.  Deterrence has always been difficult for the US to accept as a national strategy since so much of American history was “threat-free”.  After the War of 1812 with Canada and the War of 1846 with Spain/Mexico, the US has not really worried about the threat of invasion which is the reason why the attacks on the American homeland on 7 December 1941 and 11 September 2001 were so traumatic.  But while those attacks were incredibly tragic, neither really threatened the viability of the Republic.  A nuclear attack, however, is quite different.  In an instant, millions of Americans could die rendering the idea of a “victory” after such an attack moot.

But deterrence relies on the idea of mutual annihilation.  It accepts the notion that missions of citizens could die in a nuclear attack, but that the ability to threaten the deaths of millions of the other side’s citizens renders the usefulness of a nuclear attack nugatory.  No nuclear attack is rational under such circumstances.  But that truth is not the problem with deterrence for American strategists.  The problem comes from a corollary of that truth: if no nuclear attack is rational, then no threat of a nuclear attack is rational.   And it is the threat of a nuclear attack that the US wants to preserve.

The US wants North Korea to believe that the US can and will attack it.  That threat protects America’s ally, South Korea, from a North Korean attack.  That threat is credible as long as the only people who would be killed in such a war would be Korean.  But it becomes incredible if the US has to trade American lives to defend Korea.

 

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Posted January 2, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

1 January 2018   Leave a comment

Protests in Iran have continued into the 4th day.  Thus far, 12 deaths have been reported, but it is difficult to know exactly what is going on.  The protests have occurred in a large number of cities, but they do not appear to be organized nor do they seem to cohere around a single objective.  These protests are quite different from those that occurred in 2009 when the “Green Movement” was an organized attempt to derail the re-election of President Ahmadinejad whom many believed was corrupt.  These protests seem to be calling for reform, not regime change–the current President, Rouhani, was re-elected handily last May.  The US and Israel would be well-advised to pay attention to this difference.  Iran is a highly educated, very sophisticated society and if foreign powers become too involved in cheering on the protests, there is a real risk that the protests could be de-legitimized by the hard-liners in Iran.

graphic showing many cities where there have been protests

 

US President Trump rang in the New Year with a Tweet excoriating Pakistan:

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Mr. Trump made similar comments about Pakistan last August, but there has been no indication that the public criticism had much tangible effect on Pakistani policy.  Needless to say, the Pakistanis rejected the criticism and it is highly unlikely that public shaming will produce anything other than hard feelings.

 

Angus Deaton won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2015.  He has written a short essay on inequality that addresses a central concern: is economic inequality simply the result of normal economic activity or is it something that is deliberately constructed through selfish interests?  His answer is the latter.  The essay is difficult to follow, but not long.  It is well worth the effort.

Posted January 1, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

30 December 2017   Leave a comment

The Guardian is a reliably lefty British newspaper and it has published an article on the apparent collapse of the left and center-left in European politics since the Great Recession of 2008-09.  In most elections since that time, right-wing nationalist parties have done quite well and we have tended to explain their popularity in terms of fears of immigration, globalization, and the stagnation of wages.  What is equally important, and so far unexamined, is why left-wing parties have been unable to respond to these challenges as effectively.  The issue is critically important for the US as the left-wing needs to figure out a way to revive the Democratic Party rather than allowing dissatisfaction with the status quo to default to the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

 

The Haas Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, has been monitoring the growth of anti-Islamic sentiment in the US since the attacks of US territory in September 2001.   Specifically, the Institute has followed the introduction of anti-sharia legislation in the the US and it has issued a report, “Legalizing Otherhood” which documents this movement in the US.  The report finds that “Of 194 anti-Muslim bills proposed in state legislatures across the country from 2010 to 2016, 18 have passed and been enacted into law”.  Twenty of those bills have passed the Mississippi legislature, a state that has a minuscule Muslim population.  Such legislation is totally unnecessary since Federal Law is the supreme law of the land and forbids the introduction of religious law into account in all judicial proceedings.  The laws, however, are designed to engender fear of Muslims, a political, rather than a legal, objective.

 

Protests in Iran have continued into the third day, and they are beginning to take on a common theme: opposition to the religiously-based character of the regime.  According to Western reports, and such reports are not to be considered as authoritative, the protests do not seem to be aimed at President Rouhani, but rather at the authority of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  That dissatisfaction may be real, but it is more likely that the rising prices of necessary commodities is the most immediate reason for the protests.   But the burning of banners bearing the likeness of Khamenei must be a worrying sign for the regime.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

 

Posted December 30, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

29 December 2017   Leave a comment

Last week the African National Congress (ANC) elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its leader, replacing Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa.  That moved paved the way for the country’s Supreme Court to issue a ruling that the Parliament had not held Zuma responsible for using government funds for personal use.  Zuma has been President since 2009 and South Africa was plagued by corruption and economic decline during his rule.  The ruling opens the door to Zuma’s impeachment and perhaps an end to the poor governance of a potentially very rich and vibrant country.

 

China has responded to US President Trump’s tweet charging China with secretly supplying oil to North Korea.  An editorial in Global Times, which serves as an official mouthpiece for the Beijing government, asserts that

“If Washington wants to accuse Beijing, it should hand out tangible evidence. It should point out which shipping company those vessels belong to and with which Chinese authority they are associated. If the US finds illegal acts by anyone from the Chinese mainland, Beijing welcomes the tipoffs and will punish the lawbreakers. “

The editorial points out the necessary evidence to support Mr. Trump’s accusation has not been made public and that the photographs released by the South Korean government are hardly conclusive.  Most tellingly, the editorial simply describes the tweet as beneath the dignity of the US President: “This is not how a US president should behave.

 

There are reports of protests in several Iranian cities.  The protests seem to focus on rising prices in the country and on the government’s emphasis on foreign policy at the expense of domestic issues.  Protests are not usual in Iran and the reports suggests that many of the protesters were arrested.  There will be increased pressure on Iran in the next few weeks, as US President Trump will need to decide a course of action on the Iranian nuclear deal if Congress does not act on Mr. Trump’s de-certification.  The US has been working with closely with Israel to contain Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Posted December 29, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

28 December 2017   Leave a comment

US President Trump has publicly called out China for selling oil to North Korea despite the UN Security Council prohibitions on doing so.  In a Twitter post today, Trump said:

“Caught RED HANDED – very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!”

Satellite photos show Chinese and North Korean vessels transferring oil while in the Yellow Sea.  The photos were released by South Korean but were likely taken by US spy satellites.  China has made it clear that it does not support any sanctions that harm ordinary North Koreans and that it does not wish the regime in North Korea to fall.  President Trump does not seem to understand China’s interests in this dispute and he clearly expects China to support US objectives without reservation.  It is very difficult to understand how publicly shaming China’s behavior serves US interests in this matter.  In fact, Trump’s actions will likely alienate China even further.

Satellite Photos of Chinese and North Korean Ships Transferring Oil at Sea

 

The US military would have us believe that it has defeated Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, but while it no longer controls extensive territory in those countries it is far from being defeated.  Indeed, the group has launched a brutal attack in Afghanistan where the US military has been engaged in its longest war.  The group attacked a Shi’ite cultural center in Kabul and the primary victims were children.  There is no military solution to the problem of violent extremism.  The US (as well as the Russians, the Kurds, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and the Syrian Army) have killed many supporters of ISIS, but the movement has proven to be highly resilient.

 

It is cold in South Hadley!!!  Much colder than we are used to in December and the forecast does not offer much hope for a warm-up very soon.  The rest of the world, however, seems to be enjoying warmer than usual temperatures.  Note how much warmer than normal it seems to be in the Arctic.

Posted December 28, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

27 December 2017   Leave a comment

The world’s richest people became significantly richer in 2017.  The Bloomberg media outlet keeps a list of the 500 richest people in the world and found that they added $1 trillion to their collective wealth in 2017.  The increase was 23% greater than the increase in 2016 so the pace of accumulation seems to be picking up.  According to Bloomberg: “By the end of trading Tuesday, Dec. 26, the 500 billionaires controlled $5.3 trillion”.  The Guardian puts the good fortunes of the wealthy in context:

“These millionaires – who account for 0.7% of the world’s adult population – control 46% of total global wealth that now stands at $280tn. At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000 (£7,600). Collectively these people, who account for 70% of the world’s working age population, account for just 2.7% of global wealth.”

It is hard to imagine that such inequality is sustainable over the long run.  As The Guardian puts it: “The world’s super-rich hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century”.

 

 

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its annual “Arctic Report” and the report suggests that the Arctic is changing at a more rapid rate than ever in the last 1,500 years.  Jeremy Mathis is an arctic scientist at NOAA and assesses the changes in this way: “There is no normal….That’s what so strange about what’s happening in the Arctic. … The environment is changing so quickly in such a short amount of time that we can’t quite get a handle on what this new state is going to look like.”  The change in sea ice has been dramatic in recent years and many believe that permanent sea ice may not exist in a few years.

Posted December 27, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

26 December 2017   Leave a comment

Alexei Navalny, a prominent opposition figure to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been barred by the Russian Election Commission from running in next year’s election as a Presidential candidate.  The grounds for his disqualification were a conviction for embezzlement in 2013, a conviction that was rejected by the European Curt of Human Rights, but reinstated by the  Russian Supreme Court.  Navalny is a popular figure who had no chance of defeating Putin but someone who was quite adept at mobilizing his base to undermine Putin’s authoritarian rule.  Navalny has called for a boycott of the election, but Russian authorities dismiss his significance and the chances for an effective boycott.

Alexei Navalny

 

The US has negotiated a substantial decrease in its contributions to the UN budget.  The decrease is $285 million off the 2016-2017 final budget and represents a big cut to the UN’s overall budget.  According to The Guardian: “the US is responsible for 22% of the the body’s annual operating budget, or around $1.2bn in 2017-18, and 28.5% of the cost of peacekeeping operations, estimated at $6.8bn over the same period.”  In defending he budget cuts, the US Ambassador to the UN said:

“The inefficiency and overspending of the United Nations are well known. We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked. This historic reduction in spending – in addition to many other moves toward a more efficient and accountable UN – is a big step in the right direction. While we are pleased with the results of this year’s budget negotiations, you can be sure we’ll continue to look at ways to increase the UN’s efficiency while protecting our interests”.

There is little question that the US action is in response to the 128-9 vote condemning the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Posted December 26, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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