14 September 2017   Leave a comment

Mayesha Alam is a Mount Holyoke graduate and she is making  her name known as an analyst of international relations.  Her most recent article is in the Washington Post, and it outlines some important characteristics of the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.  She makes clear why the long-standing animosity between the Muslim Royinghas and the Buddhist Burmese exploded so dramatically in the last few months.  Mayesha argues that the “simplest” explanation is the decision by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) to respond militarily to the Burmese repression and the decision by the Burmese military to “ethnically cleanse” the country of Royingha.

Royingha Refugees


Nation-states are relatively young political agents.  We can actually trace the formal beginnings of the modern nation-state to the peace of Westphalia in 1648.  They currently number about 194 and are seemingly invulnerable to challenges from alternative institutions.  Yet there is no reason to believe that they will always be around–many of the challenges facing humanity, such as climate change, are much too large to be solved by nation-states.  Other problems, such as a meaningful and coherent political identity are too small to be addressed by a territorial state.  Jamie Bartlett argues that perhaps the city-state is poised to make a comeback in the future.


North Korea has tested another missile.  It’s still early and we do not have much solid information yet, but the missile flew over Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.  The missile flew about 2,300 miles, far enough to reach the US military base on Guam if it were directed in that direction.  The missile test seems to be in response to the most recent round of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.  But it also seems timed so that news about the hurricanes in Texas and Florida would be less distracting.  North Korea clearly wanted everyone in the US and the world to know that Kim Jong-un was not intimidated by the threats against North Korea.


Posted September 14, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

13 September 2017   Leave a comment

Two non-governmental organizations, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), have released a report on how the US is funding and supplying weaponry to rebels in Syria and Iraq.  Foreign Policy has an article on how the US is spending up to $2 billion a year buying Soviet-era weapons from the Balkans and the Caucasus and funneling them into Syria and Iraq.  The arms pipeline is disguised through altered paperwork and through dealers of ill-repute leaving the region with a trove of weaponry that cannot be monitored or controlled.  Those weapons will haunt the region for years to come and have enriched and emboldened arms dealers who have a vested interest in continued violence.



Posted September 13, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

12 September 2017   Leave a comment

Since 1945 the US has been the principal champion of a liberal global economy.  Since that time, the global economy has grown from about $2 trillion to about $90 trillion.  It now seems as if the US no longer wishes to act as the guarantor of the global economy and that shift is having a dramatic effect on some of its key allies.  Europe, for example, is quite concerned that the uncertainties associated with the US withdrawal will slow down economic growth considerably.  Der Spiegel characterizes the fear in this way:

“The economic policy coming out of Donald Trump’s Washington is characterized by timidity and despondency, sometimes erupting into boastful nationalism. The former economic superpower has embarked on a self-prescribed retreat. Once the home of the Washington Consensus, a policy that emphasized international cooperation, competition and market forces, the U.S. capital is now beset by economic navel gazing.”

Whether the global economy can prosper without the backstop of a great power is unknown, as is the question of whether there are willing alternatives to the US in that role.

U.S. as compared to the EU


South Korea hopes to have a special military unit trained by the end of the year potentially to assassinate North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.  The unit, called Spartan 3000 was initiated by the previous South Korean government, but the newly elected President, Moon Jae-in, has accelerated its deployment.  President Moon came into office as a dove, but events have forced his hand.  It is hard to tell whether Moon is committed to the unit’s objective or his push is merely an attempt to pre-empt calls for the re-introduction of US nuclear weapons on the peninsula.  His position was articulated in a speech given on 15 August in which he said:

“Only the Republic of Korea can make the decision for military action on the Korean Peninsula.  Without the consent of the Republic of Korea, no country can determine to take military action….We cannot rely only on our ally for our security.  When it comes to matters related to the Korean Peninsula, our country has to take the initiative in resolving them.”

Assassinating an enemy’s leader is not unknown, particularly when open conflict is too problematic and uncertain.  The US tried on several occasions to assassinate Fidel Castro after the failed attempt to overthrow him in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.  Assassinating Kim Jong-un would be a very dicey operation–only if South Korea had worked out some prior arrangement with China and others in North Korea who were willing to stabilize the situation would there be any chance of it succeeding without making matters significantly worse.


Mexico has withdrawn its very generous offer of help to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.  Mexico has its hands full with its own natural disasters of an earthquake off the coast of southern Mexico and the effects of Hurricane Katia.  Mexico made the offer even after US President Trump had attacked Mexico via Twitter as a crime-ridden country.  But the fact that President Trump took over a week to respond to Mexico’s offer and has not, as of yet, offered any condolences or expressions of sympathy for Mexico’s catastrophes was a diplomatic insult that could not be forgiven.  The breakdown of cordial relations with Mexico is a diplomatic tragedy that will resonate for years.

Posted September 12, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

11 September 2017   Leave a comment

Iraqi Kurds are pursuing plans for a referendum on possible independence in the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq as well as in areas outside that region, such as the city of Kirkuk, which are not within that Iraqi province.  The referendum is scheduled for 25 September.  The President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, indicated that opposition from the Iraqi central government would trigger off demands for secession and independence.  The referendum is opposed by every state in the region, as well as by the strongest Kurdish ally, the US, which believes that the issue detracts from the central concern of defeating Daesh (the Islamic State).  But the Kurds, and their militia, the Peshmerga, have been a very effective fighting force against Daesh and the Kurds believe that they have earned the right to their own state.


A new research paper has been published on the role of specific corporations in the process of climate change.  The paper is based on earlier research that found that “nearly two-thirds of all industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions can be traced to the products of a small number of major industrial carbon producers; 83 producers of coal, oil, natural gas, and 7 cement manufacturers”.  The paper discusses the responsibility of these companies in addressing climate change, given that “more than a quarter of sea level rise and about half the warming from 1880 to 2010 can be traced back to just 90 corporations”.   To the extent that they have profited from greenhouse gas emissions, a case could be made that they have a special responsibility in mitigating their consequences.

Climate Impacts of the Top Carbon Producers

Posted September 11, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 September 2017   Leave a comment

Der Spiegel conducted an interview with Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi on his country’s view of US discomfort with the joint nuclear agreement.  Salehi is well aware of American reservations, but he insists that Iran has followed all the requirements of the agreement and that, if the US re-imposes sanctions, it will be the Americans who will break the agreement.  Salehi makes a cogent argument that American actions could jeopardize the entire Non-Proliferation Movement.  If the US leaves the agreement without clear evidence of an Iranian violation, then few countries would believe that the non-proliferation regime that has guided world politics since 1968 is supported by the nuclear powers.

Amnesty International is reporting that the Myanmar military is planting anti-personnel land mines in front of Royingha who are fleeing the violence directed against them.  The South China Morning Post quotes an official from the Human Rights Watch that the Myanmar military is following “wartime Japan’s sanko seisaku tactics of ‘kill all, burn all, destroy all’.”   There is a treaty prohibiting the use of landmines which was introduced in 1997 and 162 states have signed the treaty.  Myanmar and Syria, for example, have not signed the treaty, nor has the United States.

Royingha Refugees

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state arrive at the border with Bangladesh. Photo: AFP

Syrian government troops and US-backed rebels (the Syrian Democratic Forces) are converging on the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor.  The rebels are coming in from the north and the Syrian government is coming from the south.  Both are fighting Daesh (the Islamic State) forces, so they have the same strategic objective, but they are also sworn enemies.  The forces are about 10 miles apart from each other.  It is not clear whether both sides have spoken about what will happen when Daesh is defeated.  It is possible that an agreement has been secretly reached about how the city will be controlled.  It is also possible that the two forces will start fighting each other.

Posted September 10, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 September 2017   Leave a comment

Evan Osnos has written an exceptionally detailed and informed article on North Korea’s perceptions of the current crisis for the New Yorker.  Osnos spent a great deal of time talking with officials in North Korea and does a good job of being faithful to an honest presentation of their views.  The article also has significant background information to the crisis.  It is a long read, but well worth the time and effort.  The conclusion of the essay is sobering:

“Our grasp of North Korea’s beliefs and expectations is not much better than its grasp of ours. To go between Washington and Pyongyang at this nuclear moment is to be struck, most of all, by how little the two understand each other. In eighteen years of reporting, I’ve never felt as much uncertainty at the end of a project, a feeling that nobody—not the diplomats, the strategists, or the scholars who have devoted their lives to the subject—is able to describe with confidence how the other side thinks. We simply don’t know how Kim Jong Un really regards the use of his country’s nuclear arsenal, or how much North Korea’s seclusion and mythology has distorted its understanding of American resolve. We don’t know whether Kim Jong Un is taking ever-greater risks because he is determined to fulfill his family’s dream of retaking South Korea, or because he is afraid of ending up like Qaddafi.”

The dance of two uninformed nuclear powers is particularly unnerving.

Mexico was hit by a 8.1 magnitude earthquake yesterday off its southern coast.  The earthquake was very deep (70 kms) which lessened the impact somewhat.  Nonetheless, at least 61 people died and more than 200 were injured.  The earthquake was the strongest recorded since 2015.  Its strength matched that of the quake that hit Mexico City in 1985 in which thousands of people died, but yesterday’s quake struck a much less populated area.

Map locator

Posted September 9, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

8 September 2017   Leave a comment

On this day in 1945 American troops entered what is now known as South Korea.  Troops from the Soviet Union had entered what is now known as North Korea on 9 August 1945.  The US and Soviet troops occupied Korea as part of the Yalta Agreement signed on 11 February 1945.  At the Yalta Conference, the Allies agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan three months after the defeat of Germany.  The Germans had surrendered on 8 May 1945 and Stalin honored his promise to enter the war.  That promise was welcomed by US President Roosevelt who wanted the Soviet Union to intervene in order to divide Japanese forces when the US invaded the country to end the war.  As part of the Yalta Agreement, the Soviet Union was promised territorial gains to redress the losses it had suffered in its surrender to Japan in the Russ0-Japanese War of 1904.

Circumstances, however, had changed by August.  Roosevelt was no longer the President–he had died and Harry Truman took his place and Truman was significantly more suspicious of the Soviet Union than Roosevelt had been.  Second, the US tested an atomic bomb on 16 July 1945 which held out the promise of ending the war with Japan without an American invasion.  The US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, the Soviets declared war against Japan on 9 August, and the US dropped its second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki on the same day.  On 10 August Japan offered to surrender.

The occupation of Korea by US and Soviet forces was supposed to be temporary, as was the division of Germany and the future division of Vietnam in 1954.  There was a US-sponsored election in the South in 1948 but the Soviets refused to allow an election in the North.  The United Nations then recognized South Korea as the legitimate government of Korea, laying the legal basis for a possible reunification of the two sectors along the lines of the government of the South.  The US removed its troops from South Korea in June of 1949, leaving only 500 soldiers to train the South Korean military, but Soviet troops did not leave the North.  In June of 1950, forces from North Korea invaded South Korea and the Korean War began.  US troops re-entered the South under the auspices of the United Nations and the war lasted until an armistice was signed in July of 1953.  North and South Korea are still technically in a state of war as no peace agreement has ever been signed between the two states.


The European Court of Justice has rejected a plea from Slovakia and Hungary to not enforce the European Union’s requirement that its members accept a quota of refugees.  Since 2015 more than 1 million refugees have arrived in Europe and the reaction to them has varied from country to country.   Slovakia and Hungary argued that the forced acceptance of refugees violated their sovereignty and that the EU had not followed the proper procedures to implement the relocation of refugees.  The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, was quoted in Reuters as saying:

“The whole issue raises a very serious question of principles: whether we are an alliance of European free nations with the Commission representing our joint interests, or a European empire which has its center in Brussels and which can issue orders”.


The Pew Research Center has compiled some detailed information about Asian-Americans and immigration from Asian countries.  The report finds that

“The U.S. Asian population grew 72% between 2000 and 2015 (from 11.9 million to 20.4 million), the fastest growth rate of any major racial or ethnic group. By comparison, the population of the second-fastest growing group, Hispanics, increased 60% during the same period.”

The countries with the largest representation within this immigrant group are China, India, and the Philippines.  Asian-Americans on the whole do quite well in the US.  According to the study:  “The median annual household income of households headed by Asian Americans is $73,060, compared with $53,600 among all U.S. households.”  But the income levels vary widely among the 19 different countries of origin studied.

Posted September 8, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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