World roundup: August 9 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Myanmar, Guinea, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 8, 1988: Hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of protesters engage in demonstrations and civil disobedience across Burma (Myanmar if you prefer) to protest the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party’s repression, corruption, and economic mismanagement. The BSPP came to power following a 1962 coup and led a military government that purged itself of much of its leftist/socialist element in the 1970s. The 8888 Uprising, as it’s known, briefly sparked a move toward elections that ended with a military coup in mid-September and the imposition of a new junta. With the partial exception of the country’s 2011-2021 experiment in semi-civilian governance, the military has remained in power to the present day.
August 9 (or so), 378: A Gothic army annihilates a larger Roman army at the Battle of Adrianople (modern Edirne). Some two-thirds of the Roman soldiers were killed, including Emperor Valens. This virtual eradication of an imperial army opened the door for the Goths to move into the empire for good and contributed to the eventual collapse of the empire in the west.
August 9, 1945: The United States drops its second atomic bomb, this time on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, while the Soviet army invades Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Some 80,000 people are believed to have died of causes that can be linked to the bombing. The combination of the atomic bombings and the entry of the Soviets into the war against Japan convinced Japanese leaders to surrender, though it remains an open question whether they would have eventually done so without the US military irradiating two major Japanese cities.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least four people were killed Tuesday in a Turkish drone strike on the city of Qamishli in northern Syria. Qamishli is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces militia, which identified all four as “fighters.” The SOHR says that they were killed while digging trenches to prepare for a potential Turkish invasion.
The Turkish government has dispatched a new drillship, the Abdullhamid Han, to explore for offshore energy deposits in the eastern Mediterranean. Past Turkish efforts in this general area have not exactly won Ankara many friends. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted during its launch ceremony on Tuesday that the Abdullhamid Han will only explore in Turkish “sovereign territory,” but Erdoğan’s definition of “sovereign territory” has in the past included waters that are also claimed by other countries—chiefly Cyprus and Greece.
There is a race to identify, claim, and begin exploiting natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean, one that’s taken on added urgency as European states scramble to find alternatives to Russian energy exports. Erdoğan wants to be a player in that race, but disputes over maritime boundaries with Greece in the Aegean Sea and Ankara’s refusal to recognize the Cypriot government or its maritime claims are potential flashpoints in an increasingly strategically significant region.
According to the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry Israeli occupation forces killed at least four people, including two teenagers and two others the Israelis described as “terrorists,” in an operation in the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday. One of those killed was Ibrahim al-Nablusi, a fairly prominent commander in al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the militant wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Fatah Party. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society is saying that at least 69 people were wounded in the incident, in which Palestinians apparently exchanged gunfire with the Israeli forces. This operation comes in the wake of this weekend’s Israeli bombardment of Gaza and there has to be some concern that it could reignite that conflict, though so far I haven’t seen any indication to that effect.
Elsewhere, three new polls for three different Israeli media outlets all suggest the potential for November’s snap election to end inconclusively. All three polls have former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, along with its usual coalition partners, emerging with more seats than the collective opposition. But they all seem to have Netanyahu and company topping out at 59 votes, just shy of a majority in the 120 seat Knesset. If that’s the outcome then Netanyahu would need to try to peel at least two seats from what has been a fairly recalcitrant opposition, or else another snap election will be in the offing. Israel’s current ruling coalition, which is just an anti-Netanyahu alliance, is forecast to win anywhere from 51 to 55 seats, which would leave it in much weaker shape in terms of trying to hang on to power.
A Russian rocket launching from Kazakhstan put an Iranian satellite into orbit on Tuesday. It’s nice to see everybody working so nicely together. The satellite, the Khayyam, is according to Iranian officials meant to be used for scientific monitoring. However, according to a Washington Post piece last week, the Russian military is intending to use it for at least the next few months to improve its reconnaissance capabilities in Ukraine. Beyond that, US officials are apparently worried that the Iranians could use the satellite to spy on Israel and/or US-friendly Gulf Arab states. Indeed those US officials seem concerned about the potential for further space-related cooperation between Russia and Iran. Washington has of course deepened that cooperation by trying to isolate both countries economically and diplomatically, but I’m sure we’d rather not talk about that.
Elsewhere, the Biden administration has renewed sanctions waivers covering foreign involvement with Iran’s civilian nuclear program. These waivers prevent firms working on projects like, for example, converting Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak to a design that’s less of a proliferation risk, from running afoul of US sanctions. The Trump administration rescinded these waivers in 2020 but the Biden administration has restored them.
Responsible Statecraft’s Eli Clifton outlines the findings of a new report highlighting the lack of oversight for US contractors in Afghanistan:
The rapid collapse of the Afghan National Security Forces last summer and return to power by the Taliban laid bare the failed U.S.-led state-building efforts since 2001. The human and financial costs of the 20-year conflict were staggering — approximately 243,000 people died because of the war and the cost to U.S. taxpayers exceeded $2.3 trillion.
But the war wasn’t a failure for Pentagon contractors who enjoyed $108 billion in contracts for work in Afghanistan, with little oversight, according to a new paper by Brown University’s Cost of War Project.
The paper, authored by Heidi Peltier, finds that 13 companies received over $1 billion each in Pentagon contracts for work in Afghanistan. And those are just some of the contracts disclosed in federal databases. Over one-third of Pentagon contracts for work in Afghanistan — worth $37 billion — went to recipients who are not uniquely identifiable in publicly available contracting databases.
“When the DoD registers certain contract recipients as ‘undisclosed’ or ‘miscellaneous,’ it becomes difficult or impossible to track contract spending and thus to conduct oversight or assess effectiveness and waste,” said the paper.
A suicide bomber attacked a military convoy in northern Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Monday, killing at least four soldiers. There’s no indication as to responsibility but the bombing did come one day after a senior Pakistani Taliban commander, Abdul Wali, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Could be a coincidence.
A new report from the United Nations’ Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar finds that Myanmar’s junta has committed human rights violations “on a scale and in a manner that constitutes a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population.” Those violations include murder, torture, arbitrary arrest, forced relocation, sexual violence, and more. The IIMM is supposed to be compiling evidence that could be used in an international criminal proceeding, though the chances of something like that emerging from Myanmar are probably slim.
The Taiwanese military began conducting live fire drills on Tuesday, which given that the Chinese military is still conducting drills in the vicinity of Taiwan creates an uncomfortably tense situation. Taiwanese officials say these exercises have been planned for some time and were not organized in response to China’s activities in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit last week. But there are reports, for example, of Chinese and Taiwanese naval vessels essentially shadowing one another along the median line through the Taiwan Strait, which again is not a particularly comfortable situation.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is attempting to postpone next year’s scheduled parliamentary election until early 2024. By law the Solomons parliament must dissolve by next May and hold the election shortly after. Sogovare wants parliament to dissolve on December 31 instead. His contention is that the Solomons cannot afford to hold an election and then host the Pacific Games, as it’s scheduled to do in November, in the same year. His political opponents are warning that this could be part of some sort of power grab. The delay Sogovare is seeking would require amending the country’s constitution, which would require a two-thirds parliamentary super-majority to pass.
Guinea’s ruling junta has ordered the dissolution of the country’s largest civilian opposition bloc, the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC). The FNDC has been organizing protests in an effort to pressure the junta to speed up its timetable for transitioning Guinea back to democratic rule, with more demonstrations scheduled for later this month. The dissolution decree, which was apparently issued Saturday but only became public on Tuesday, could raise the stakes around those protests, assuming they still take place.
A double-tap bombing targeting a Burkinabé military convoy killed at least 15 soldiers on Tuesday in Burkina Faso’s Centre-Nord region. As far as I know there’s been no claim of responsibility. Elsewhere, at least ten people—six civilians and four members of the paramilitary VDP security force—were killed in an attack in the Nord region’s Yatenga province on Monday. Here too I haven’t seen any indication as to responsibility. There are Islamic State and al-Qaeda aligned factions that are active across Burkina Faso, primarily in the northern parts of the country.
Several explosions reportedly rocked Russia’s Saki airbase in Crimea on Tuesday, leaving at least one person dead and several others wounded. Russian officials are attributing these blasts to the accidental detonation of “aviation ammunition stores,” but speculation nevertheless seems to be rampant about the possibility that they were the intentional work of…somebody. Ukrainian forces or Crimean saboteurs, perhaps. There are reports of guerrilla resistance forces emerging and carrying out attacks in parts of Ukraine that are under Russian control, though in fairness Crimea has been under Russian control for considerably longer than, say, Kherson. Nobody in the Ukrainian government is claiming responsibility for these explosions, but presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak did cryptically tweet “it is just beginning” after they happened. So who knows?
US President Joe Biden signed the instruments of ratification for Finland and Sweden to join NATO on Tuesday.
The US Senate approved both instruments last week by a 95-1 margin. The United States is the 23rd NATO member to ratify both countries’ NATO applications. As we’ve covered here Turkey is likely the biggest sticking point in this process, as Ankara continues to demand concessions from both Finland and Sweden related to their policies toward groups Turkey has outlawed, like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Gülen Organization.
The Biden administration is ending the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, AKA the “remain in Mexico” program, under which prospective asylum seekers at the southern US border were forced to return to Mexico while their cases worked their way through the US immigration system. The US Supreme Court ruled back in June that the administration had the authority to end the program and then certified its ruling last week, obliging a federal judge in Texas to rescind the injunction he’d imposed blocking the program’s termination.
Joe Biden on Tuesday signed the CHIPS Act into law. Among other things, this measure allocates $52.7 billion in subsidies for semiconductor manufacturing, which is primarily aimed at building the US chip sector up to be more competitive with China’s (creating incentives for US chip makers to keep their manufacturing facilities in the US rather than outsourcing them to China) and to reduce US dependence on components imported from Taiwan and South Korea. The US military regards expanding the US domestic chip manufacturing capacity as a national security issue.
Finally, Quincy Institute fellow and Yale law professor Aslı Bâli has written a new policy brief arguing that the goal of advancing human rights around the world—something the current US administration has professed an interest in doing—would be better achieved through a policy of military restraint than through America’s usual policy of military excess:
For the United States to be “committed to a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable” requires more than rhetorical flourishes. To achieve the goal of protecting and promoting human rights, the United States must embrace a more restrained security posture together with a persistent diplomatic strategy that prioritizes engagement ahead of confrontation.
Military force and economic coercion are the wrong tools for advancing human rights. As the cases of Iraq and Libya demonstrate, preventive or humanitarian wars have critically impaired human rights. Similarly, comprehensive sanctions regimes have imposed severe human rights costs while achieving few U.S. foreign policy goals, if any, in targeted countries. The United States should therefore incorporate the following policy approaches in the service of human rights:
Right-size its expectations of what American power can achieve to protect and advance human rights abroad. On balance, exaggerated and unrealistic confidence in American power has hurt rather than helped the cause of human rights.
Serve as a public advocate of human rights in multilateral settings, engaging with international institutions to pressure allies and adversaries alike on their human rights records. At the same time, the United States should raise human rights concerns directly in its bilateral dealings when abuses come to light, using private diplomacy to highlight specific issues or changes that are priorities.
Do much more to support the protection and promotion of human rights in areas under its direct control or influence. This would include, at a minimum, halting human rights abuses committed by the U.S. in its own counterterrorism operations, freezing military aid when U.S. arms are implicated in targeting civilians, building on the recent openness to Ukrainian refugees by strengthening and expanding U.S. asylum and refugee resettlement programs globally, and greatly increasing delivery of humanitarian aid, in the form of funding as well as medical and food assistance, to civilian populations deprived of their socioeconomic rights due to conflict, climate change, and the global food crisis.
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