World roundup: September 17 2020

Stories from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Chile, and more

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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY

September 16, 1955: A group of senior military officers begins an uprising they call the “Revolución Libertadora” against Argentine President Juan Perón in the city of Córdoba, Argentina. The coup would end with Perón’s resignation on September 21 and the junta assuming power on September 23.

September 16, 1970: Black September begins

September 17, 1176: The Battle of Myriokephalon

September 17, 1978: The Camp David Accords are signed

September 17, 1982: The Sabra and Shatila massacre

INTERNATIONAL

Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for September 17:

  • 30,336,341 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (7,360,136 active, +309,054 since yesterday)

  • 950,185 reported fatalities (+5484 since yesterday)

In today’s global news:

  • Hey, if you’re looking for something to do and have a lot of money that you’re not using, why not book a flight to nowhere? Yes, airlines are apparently trying to con-er, I mean sell tickets for flights that take off and land at the same airport and basically let you look at stuff from way up in the air. On the plus side, at least they’re non-stop.

  • Alternatively, you could just mail some cash to your favorite airline. You won’t get to fly over any cool stuff that way, but also you won’t have contributed to an extraordinarily wasteful enterprise that burns a bunch of high polluting jet fuel for no discernible reason.

MIDDLE EAST

SYRIA

  • 3691 confirmed coronavirus cases (+37)

  • 165 reported fatalities (+2)

Syria is in the midst of a fuel crisis, and Oil Minister Bassam Tomeh took to television on Thursday to blame the United States for it. Clearly this is a classic attempt to pass the buck and avoid…well, actually he’s kind of got a point. Obviously the war is the biggest issue here, but US sanctions (on both Syria and Iran) are cutting into oil imports, and the fact that US soldiers are currently squatting on eastern Syria’s oil fields isn’t doing much for domestic production. Add in a drop in smuggling from Lebanon and there’s your fuel crunch.

YEMEN

  • 2022 confirmed cases (+3)

  • 585 reported fatalities (+2)

Yemeni government and Houthi negotiators are scheduled to meet Friday in Switzerland to finalize, hopefully, a United Nations-brokered prisoner release that would see each side free hundreds of people currently in custody. The meeting was supposed to take place on Thursday, but the government apparently doesn’t have its whole team in place yet so they requested a short delay. If all goes according to plan this will be the largest prisoner release in the Yemeni war so far, and ideally would help build some confidence for further negotiations.

TURKEY

  • 298,039 confirmed cases (+1648)

  • 7315 reported fatalities (+66)

Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman suggests that Turkey may be one of the big losers emerging from Israel’s new diplomatic engagement with the Gulf states:

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti-Israel tirades have made him a hero among Palestinians, but it’s done little to serve Turkey’s national interests. Friendship with Israel had, on the other hand, served Ankara royally. Tight military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries, which peaked in the 1990s with Israeli air force pilots training over Turkish skies, allowed both countries to project power across the region. In Western capitals, it helped Ankara sustain its strategic currency beyond the Cold War. In Washington, being Israel’s closest Muslim ally ensured bipartisan support in beating back the powerful Greek and Armenian lobbies on the one hand while averting potential sanctions over its dismal human rights record on the other.

Today, the United Arab Emirates has succeeded, with much help from Erdogan, in stripping Turkey of its niche status. Rubbing salt in Turkey’s wounds, the tiny Gulf nation is getting state-of-the-art, US-made F-35 fighter jets as its ruthless repression of domestic dissent gets swept under the carpet. Turkey has been kicked out of the F-35 consortium and will no longer be getting the planes it helped produce. This is because it refused to scrap its deal with Russia for S-400 missiles that are designed to shoot the US aircraft down.

LEBANON

  • 26,768 confirmed cases (+685)

  • 263 reported fatalities (+4)

The Trump administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on two Lebanese companies and one individual over their alleged ties to Hezbollah. The firms, Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction, are accused of essentially laundering funds for the organization.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

  • 175,256 confirmed cases (+4791) in Israel, 33,843 confirmed cases (+837) in Palestine

  • 1169 reported fatalities (+8) in Israel, 244 reported fatalities (+1) in Palestine

An Israeli media outlet called Globe is claiming that Israeli officials are working on a plan for a new oil pipeline connecting Saudi oil refineries in the Red Sea coastal city of Yanbu to Israel’s existing Eilat-to-Ashkelon pipeline. Since Israel and Saudi Arabia don’t have a formal diplomatic relationship, the Israelis would ask their new UAE allies to take the lead in pushing the project. Assuming this report is accurate this project should have a lot of appeal for the Saudis, who could conceivably transport their oil overland right to the Mediterranean coast, bypassing both the tense Persian Gulf and the expensive Suez Canal. At a time of low oil prices this could be a cheaper transportation option for the increasingly cash-strapped Saudis. The appeal for Israel, which could extract hundreds of millions of dollars per year in rents from such a pipeline, is even more apparent.

SAUDI ARABIA

  • 328,144 confirmed cases (+593)

  • 4399 reported fatalities (+30)

Chinese geologists involved with Saudi Arabia’s nascent nuclear program have reportedly discovered signs of enough domestic uranium ore in the kingdom to produce fuel for civilian reactors and to sustain a uranium export industry. Or to make some nuclear weapons, I guess. Whatever. These are just preliminary findings, but they’re a positive sign for the nuclear program and also a blaring red siren for anybody worried that Mohammed bin Salman might wake up one day and decide he’d like to be running a nuclear-armed state. The Saudis are in negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency over imposing restrictions and inspections on their nuclear program to alleviate concerns about weaponization.

IRAN

  • 413,149 confirmed cases (+2815)

  • 23,808 reported fatalities (+176)

The Trump administration on Thursday also imposed new sanctions on two Iranian entities and several individuals with alleged ties to Iran’s security apparatus. The US Justice Department has additionally charged three Iranian individuals over allegations that they were involved in efforts to hack a large number of “aerospace and satellite technology firms” for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Ahead of Sunday’s essentially supposed deadline for the reintroduction of UN sanctions against Iran, a deadline only the United States recognizes at this point, Donald Trump is reportedly drawing up an executive order assuming the power to enforce one element of those sanctions, the arms embargo. We’re about to enter “theater of the absurd” territory, in which the US asserts an authority it doesn’t have in defense of an international embargo that doesn’t exist. But it will probably work, since just like companies in every other field no international arms manufacturer is going to want to violate US sanctions for the privilege of doing business with Iran.

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

  • 38,872 confirmed cases (+17)

  • 1436 reported fatalities (+0)

With peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government ongoing in Doha, at least 19 Afghan government and pro-government militia fighters and at least 30 Taliban fighters were killed overnight in multiple clashes in Nangarhar province. According to Afghan officials the Taliban attacked several security checkpoints in the province, provoking the clashes.

INDIA

  • 5,212,686 confirmed cases (+96,793)

  • 84,404 reported fatalities (+1174)

Indian security forces killed three alleged Kashmiri rebels along with one woman bystander in a raid in Srinagar overnight that turned into an extended gun battle. Hundreds of people gathered in the wake of the incident to protest and throw rocks at the Indian forces, which responded with tear gas. There have been no reports of injuries as a result of the protest.

CHINA

  • 85,223 confirmed cases (+9) on the mainland, 4994 confirmed cases (+9) in Hong Kong

  • 4634 reported fatalities (+0) on the mainland, 102 reported fatalities (+0) in Hong Kong

The Chinese government has locked down the city of Riuli, on the border between Myanmar and China’s Yunnan province, after confirming at least two cases of the coronavirus in people crossing into China. Authorities have already set up scores of testing sites and aim to test the entire 200,000-plus population of the city.

JAPAN

  • 77,009 confirmed cases (+561)

  • 1473 reported fatalities (+12)

New Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is riding a wave of popular support as he begins his tenure. A poll from Japan’s Kyodo news agency indicates he’s backed by almost two-thirds of the Japanese population as he steps out from under former PM Abe Shinzō’s shadow. That result makes a powerful argument for Suga calling an early election, in order to shore up his position. But there’s a potential downside—a bit over 55 percent of respondents in the same survey say Japan’s next parliamentary election should take place either when it’s scheduled (next October) or “shortly” beforehand. They may not respond well if Suga tries to hold one in the next few months.

AFRICA

NIGER

  • 1183 confirmed cases (+1)

  • 69 reported fatalities (+0)

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for last month’s terrorist attack in southwestern Niger’s Tillabéri region, in which six French aid workers and two Nigerien nationals were killed.

ETHIOPIA

  • 66,913 confirmed cases (+689)

  • 1060 reported fatalities (+15)

Paramilitaries reportedly killed more than 30 people in western Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region earlier this month. The identity of the attackers is unclear, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed referring to them vaguely as “groups aimed at overturning the reforms journey.” Hundreds of people were reportedly displaced amid the violence. A similar incident in the same region last June left more than 50 people dead, though again the exact nature of the attackers is unknown.

SOMALIA

  • 3390 confirmed cases (+0)

  • 98 reported fatalities (+0)

Five Quran teachers and several other people have reportedly been killed by unknown gunmen in the area around the town of Adale in south-central Somalia. Details are sparse but authorities seem to believe that this was not al-Shabab but rather the result of some sort of local dispute.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime says it’s found evidence that four Somali money transfer companies have moved some $3.7 million in recent years for regional arms traffickers. Many of the transfers involved individuals in Yemen and some clearly violated US sanctions targeting the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The effect of these findings could be the further isolation of these transfer companies from international financial networks, which needless to say would not be great for the Somali economy. Since most Somalis don’t have bank accounts, they depend on the transfer companies to receive remittances and humanitarian aid.

UGANDA

  • 5380 confirmed cases (+114)

  • 60 reported fatalities (+0)

The Ugandan and Tanzanian governments have signed a $3.5 billion deal to build a pipeline connecting Ugandan oil fields to the Tanzanian port city of Tanga for export. Both countries expect to see substantial revenue from this arrangement, but environmental and other NGOs, along with the thousands of people who will be displaced by the pipeline, are complaining about its potential negative impacts.

BURUNDI

  • 473 confirmed cases (+1)

  • 1 reported fatality (+0)

So far, at least, new Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye does not seem to be breaking with his predecessor, the late Pierre Nkurunziza, when it comes to the systematic violation of human rights, at least not as far as UN investigators can tell. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has issued a new report that concludes “there is no indication that the level of human rights violations has abated under the new government.” Ndayishimiye has only been in office since June, but if he were planning to improve on this front he would ideally have already started doing so.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

  • 10,442 confirmed cases (+28)

  • 267 reported fatalities (+0)

Unspecified attackers ambushed an aid convoy in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province on Thursday, killing one aid worker and briefly taking two others hostage. They were later released after “community intervention,” according to the charity for which they work, World Vision.

SOUTH AFRICA

  • 655,572 confirmed cases (+2128)

  • 15,772 reported fatalities (+67)

A new report from Human Rights Watch finds that despite a new government project launched last year to cut down on xenophobia, foreign nationals are still regularly subjected to “harassment, violence and discrimination” by authorities and civilians. This xenophobia occasionally escalates into violence, and that occasionally escalates into lethal violence.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

  • 1,085,281 confirmed cases (+5762)

  • 19,061 reported fatalities (+144)

Members of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s entourage say they’ve found “traces” of the nerve agent Novichok on water bottles that he was drinking in his hotel in the Siberian city of Tomsk last month. Navalny was apparently poisoned, with German, French, and Swedish authorities all concluding that he was dosed with Novichok, and was airlifted to Germany for treatment. He seems to be recovering well and is talking about returning to Russia.

Meanwhile, the Russian military says it’s moving additional forces to the country’s far east in response to unspecified “tensions.” This may be a preemptive move to position more assets in the Pacific region in case of some kind of confrontation between the US and China. Or it may be a response to ongoing unrest in the eastern province of Khabarovsk, related to the dismissal and arrest on alleged murder charges of regional governor Sergei Furgal back in July.

BELARUS

  • 74,987 confirmed cases (+224)

  • 771 reported fatalities (+4)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday closed his country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania and deployed military forces to western Belarus. There remains no independent evidence of anything unusual happening on the western Belarusian border, but either Lukashenko has some evidence of a military buildup or he’s trying to distract the public from all the protests demanding his resignation.

The European Union doesn’t appear to be planning an invasion, but it is on the verge of issuing sanctions against a list of 40 senior Belarusian political figures. However, the Cypriot government is blocking those sanctions in order to force the bloc to take a stronger stance against Turkey’s offshore drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean and, specifically, in waters claimed by Cyprus. Most of the rest of the EU seems to prefer trying to negotiate with Ankara over this issue, but at this point there is something of an imperative around the Belarusian sanctions as Brussels has set some expectations that it will be penalizing people in Lukashenko’s administration. EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss.

GREECE

  • 14,400 confirmed cases (+359)

  • 325 reported fatalities (+9)

The Turkish government said Thursday that it’s prepared to engage in talks with the Greek government over the eastern Mediterranean and would like to improve its diplomatic engagement with the entire EU at the bloc’s summit next week. Ankara brought its Oruç Reis exploratory vessel, which had been searching for offshore energy deposits in waters claimed by Greece, back to port over the weekend, a move that was received favorably by the Greek government and may have opened up space for bilateral negotiations.

FRANCE

  • 415,481 confirmed cases (+10,593)

  • 31,095 reported fatalities (+50)

The other player in the eastern Mediterranean drama, France, has seen its own tensions with Turkey escalate over the past several weeks, particularly since a still shady incident back in June in which the French say they interdicted a ship trying to smuggle weapons into Libya and were threatened by Turkish naval vessels. Turkish officials claim that the French frigate involved in the interdiction provoked a confrontation with their ships, not the other way around. NATO officials opened an investigation into the incident, but it now seems they’ve decided not to release the findings because they’ve been deemed “too sensitive.”

AMERICAS

CHILE

  • 441,150 confirmed cases (+1863)

  • 12,142 reported fatalities (+84)

With Chilean voters about to vote in a referendum on whether or not to rewrite their country’s Pinochet-era constitution, indigenous Chileans are hoping finally to gain legal recognition:

The long-simmering conflict between the Mapuche, Chile’s largest Indigenous group, and the government over land rights and cultural recognition has escalated and spilled into violence in recent weeks, stoked by the economic pain that followed the pandemic.

The clashes were condemned by the government. But the strife amplified public support for the Mapuche’s demands and pushed their cause to the top of the political agenda just weeks before Chileans decide whether to overhaul their Constitution, potentially creating the first opportunity in decades for official recognition of Chile’s Indigenous communities.

Nearly 13 percent of Chileans — roughly two million people — identified as Indigenous in the 2017 census. But Chile, unlike some of its neighbors in South America, does not acknowledge its Indigenous peoples in its Constitution, said Felipe Agüero, a political scientist at the University of Chile.

BOLIVIA

  • 128,872 confirmed cases (+586)

  • 7478 reported fatalities (+31)

The leader of Bolivia’s junta, Jeanine Áñez, announced Thursday that she will not run in next month’s (unless she postpones it again) presidential election after all.

You won’t have Áñez to kick around anymore (Todo Noticias via Wikimedia Commons)

When she seized power after the coup that ousted former President Evo Morales last November Áñez initially promised not to run for a full term in office. But, hey, she also promised a quick transition to a new election, and here it is almost a year later and it’s still not clear they’re going to happen. Áñez is lagging in the polls, and her decision seems designed to try to unite the right wing opposition to Morales’ Movement for Socialism party and its candidate, Luis Arce, behind Carlos Mesa. A new poll this week suggested that Arce could win the election outright in the first round, partly because there are so many conservative candidates in the field.

PERU

  • 744,400 confirmed cases (+0)

  • 31,051 reported fatalities (+0)

Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra will face an impeachment vote on Friday. Peru’s Constitutional Court on Thursday threw out his lawsuit challenging that vote and requesting a stay. The court did agree to begin deliberations on the second part of the suit, over whether or not Congress exceeded its authority in opening impeachment proceedings in the first place, but the court’s deliberations will take weeks and so in rejecting the request for a stay they ensured that the vote will take place. Vizcarra is considered very likely to win Friday’s vote, which will require 87 votes in the 130 member Congress to unseat him. He’s considered so likely to win the vote, in fact, that the court cited that likelihood in deciding not to grant the stay.

UNITED STATES

  • 6,874,596 confirmed cases (+46,295)

  • 202,213 reported fatalities (+879)

Finally, at Foreign Policy Hannah Ryder, Ovigwe Eguege, and Anna Baisch of the international development firm Development Reimagined make the case for a fundamental restructuring of the UN’s most basic and most stifling institution:

This year, as the effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt around the world, leaders are preparing to meet virtually to mark 75 years of the United Nations: its “diamond” anniversary. But 2020 has brought into focus some sharp issues around the U.N.’s effectiveness, including its largest donor, the United States, pulling funds from the World Health Organization (WHO). There were mounting problems in the U.N. prior to this. The U.N. and its agencies are constantly fighting for new money to cover escalating costs of various missions such as on health, education, and peacekeeping, despite global improvements in poverty. In terms of maintaining peace and security—the U.N.’s record has been dismal—from dithering over apartheid in South Africa, to Iraq, Rwanda, Yemen, the 2008 financial crisis, and now, COVID-19.

The typical responses to the U.N.’s failure have been to enlarge the P5, the five permanent members of the Security Council who represent the chief victors of World War II. Bring in other global powers such as India or Turkey. Move around the representational seats and create new categories. Create more seats for Africa. Dilute the veto power exercised by the P5.

But all of these measures are tinkering. None are adequate. The only way forward is to acknowledge the key difference between 1945 and 2020, decolonization, and abolish the permanent members of the Security Council altogether. Here’s why and how.