World update: September 14 2017



So this happened recently:

I have nothing constructive to say here but I did get a little chuckle out of it.


A roadside bomb killed the chief of police for Ghazni province on Thursday.


After 14 years, Doctors Without Borders has been ordered to vacate Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. Islamabad hasn’t given any reason for the decision, which is going to remove the only access most people in those areas have to basic medical care.


The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, whose attacks on several Myanmar police and military outposts last month gave the Myanmar military the excuse it wanted to resume ethnically cleansing the Rohingya, released a statement on Thursday denying any ties to Islamist groups like ISIS and asking surrounding countries to help prevent groups like that from gaining a foothold in Rakhine state. The longer the ethnic cleansing continues, of course, the greater the likelihood that a group like that will be able to exploit it.

International pressure is continuing to rise for Myanmar to stop the ethnic cleansing campaign. During a joint appearance in London with UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson let Aung San Suu Kyi off the hook but called on the Myanmar military to stand down. Johnson, by contrast, said that Suu Kyi has to speak out.


Two people were killed in what appears to have been a double-tap bombing in southern Thailand on Thursday. The attack was likely perpetrated by Muslim separatists.


It hasn’t been that long since China and India were staring one another down over Doklam, but the two nuclear powers seem to be restoring cordial relations pretty quickly:

Tension between China and India has significantly diffused after the Doklam standoff “disengaged” in a mutually face-saving way and Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a 10-second-long handshake at the 9th BRICS Summit in Xiamen, China. Most recently, China expressed its willingness to reopen the Nathu La Pass, which has been closed by China due to the Doklam standoff, to Indian pilgrims after discussions.

The Nathu La Pass in the Himalayas used to be a part of the ancient Silk Road; it connects India’s Sikkim area with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. In Tibetan, Nathu means “listening ears” and La means “pass.” Through the pass, Indian pilgrims could take a shortcut to reach Mount Kailash, a sacred place in four religions (Bön, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism) and undertake the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage. Otherwise, these pilgrims have to take the Lipulekh Pass route, a much longer and more tiring journey. In 2015, China agreed to open the Nathu La Pass, allowing Indian pilgrims to pass through Tibet annually.

The pass has been closed since the Doklam standoff began, so restoring it would be a big step toward normalizing things.


As I was writing this update, this happened:

North Korea has fired a missile over northern Japan, the South Korean and Japanese governments say.

The missile is likely to have reached an altitude of about 770km (478 miles) and travelled some 3,700km, South Korea’s military said.

The missile flew over Japan’s Hokkaido island before landing in the Pacific Ocean, officials say.

This is of course the second missile test North Korea has flown over Japan in the past three weeks. This missile flew higher and farther than the one tested on August 29, far enough that it could have hit Guam if it had been fired in that direction. It’ll probably be a day or two before people have a handle on which kind of missile this one was.



Code Blue, a non-profit watchdog group that tracks reports of sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers, says it has obtained 14 leaked case files related to abuses in the Central African Republic and has found evidence of “egregious mishandling.” In ten of the cases accusations weren’t escalated to law enforcement and were instead buried by UN personnel. In eight cases the accusers were never even interviewed.



The joint Russia-Belarus “Zapad 2017” military exercise began on Thursday, which is either meant to prepare for an insurgent, NATO-backed rebellion in Belarus or to prepare for a Russian invasion of the Baltic states depending on whose story you believe. Moscow is angrily accusing NATO of “whipping up hysteria” about the exercise as a “provocation,” but it is true that soldiers who participated in the Zapad 2013 exercise were used a short time later to effect the Russian occupation of Crimea. So concerns about the nature of Zapad 2017 might be overblown but they’re not entirely without reason.


Kiev on Thursday embraced a Russian proposal to station UN peacekeepers (though they, uh, might want to consult with people in the CAR about that) in eastern Ukraine, provided none of them are Russian. Russian President Vladimir Putin made this suggestion to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, allowing as to how the peacekeepers could be disbursed throughout eastern Ukraine to protect international observers rather than just stationed on the frozen front line of the conflict. Could be an opening here, though likely not.

Analysts Kimberly Marten and Olga Oliker look at the ongoing and potentially dangerous role being played by paramilitary militias in Ukraine:

When the volunteer battalions (although not all are technically battalions, we will use this terminology as shorthand) first appeared in 2014, their assistance was welcome and necessary, albeit controversial. Although seen as patriots by many, critics deemed these groups undisciplined, politically extremist, and insufficiently controlled by Ukrainian authorities. Some were credibly linked to human rights violations and neo-Nazi sympathies.

One recent account suggests that those problems have disappeared and today the heroic narrative appears triumphant in Ukraine and beyond. It holds that the volunteer battalions rose to their country’s defense in a time of need, and members have now either stepped back into their civilian lives or joined the state’s formal security sector as Ukraine’s military forces became more robust. Almost all of these units are now under state command, subordinate to the National Guard or other security forces.

The reality is more complicated. In fact, several of these formations continue to function as relatively autonomous and politicized units inside state security forces, with separate recruitment and command structures. Moreover, volunteer battalion veterans, even after official demobilization, retain easy access to weapons, and many remain loyal to their old commanders and financial patrons.


European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may have doused a little cold water on the Catalan independence movement on Thursday, when he said that an independent Catalonia would have to apply to join the European Union as a brand new member rather than being grandfathered in. The subtext there, since any current EU member can block a prospective member’s bid, is that Spain could prevent Catalonia from ever joining the EU were it of a mind to do so.



Brazilian President Michel Temer has been charged with corruption…uh, again:

Brazil’s prosecutor general’s office has filed charges of racketeering against President Michel Temer and six other leading politicians from his party, three of whom are already in jail. Temer and two other men are also accused of obstructing justice.

“They practiced illicit acts in exchange for bribes by way of diverse public organs,” prosecutors said. “Michel Temer is accused of having acted as the leader of the criminal organisation since May 2016.”

Prosecutors said the group, all politicians from Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), pocketed $188m in bribes.

Temer’s firewall in congress is likely to hold this time around, just as it did last time, shielding him from actually having to face these charges.


You might want to sit down for this, but it turns out that Mexicans don’t like Donald Trump very much. No, I know it’s shocking, but really:

Mexicans’ positive image of the United States has fallen to its lowest level since at least 2002, with about two-thirds of people viewing the country led by President Donald Trump unfavorably, according to a poll released on Thursday.

The U.S.-based Pew Research Center’s findings reveal a drastic about-face in Mexicans’ views of their northern neighbor. In 2015, 66 percent had a positive view of the United States. By 2017, 65 percent of people disapproved of the world’s top economy, Pew said.

Unsurprisingly, few Mexicans approve of Trump’s proposed border wall, with 94 percent of people opposing it. But Mexicans also fret about Trump’s international footprint.

“Only 5 percent have confidence in him to do the right thing regarding world affairs, Trump’s lowest rating among 37 nations polled in 2017,” according to the poll.

Frankly, I’d like to know who’s in that five percent, because I’ve got some bad news for those folks.


The story of the alleged “sonic weapon” or “sonic attack” that deafened several US  diplomats in Cuba and even reportedly gave some of them concussions has continued to baffle, well, pretty much everybody who’s read or heard about it. This new AP report only raises more questions:

The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he’d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room.

Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 US victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The top US diplomat has called them “health attacks”.

New details learned by the Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling US officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.

Nobody can figure out what kind of weapon or device would produce these effects, particularly the concussions. Some people heard or felt the “attacks” as they were happening, others didn’t notice anything until they lost their hearing. It’s not even clear that these were deliberate “attacks” of some kind. And there’s certainly no lead as to the culprit, assuming there was a culprit–the Cuban government is almost too obvious, and it really does a country no good at all to attack foreign diplomats on its own soil. It’s really a stunningly weird story.


Rex Tillerson has given State Department personnel a peek at his plan to gut the State Department save the American taxpayer $5 to $10 billion over the next five years, or, for perspective, less than a single percent of the F-35 budget. And the reviews are overwhelmingly positive:

Some officials were put off by the buzzwords and corporate tone of the email. The missive was light on specifics, and emphasized cost savings and return on investment over the nuts-and-bolts of diplomacy, which they argue is inherently hard to monetize.

The plan “will align our foreign assistance and policy strategies, capabilities, and resources to meet the needs and capitalize on the opportunities of a rapidly evolving global landscape,” Tillerson wrote.

“It’s fluffy, meaningless B.S.,” one State Department official said.

While critics of the process say State Department has failed to consult with the NGO community or lawmakers, Foggy Bottom’s leadership has continued to publicly insist that the redesign is an “employee-driven process” with “no preconceived outcomes.”

Folks, we are leveraging synergies and developing dynamic bandwidth vis-a-vis best practices to disrupt the diplomacy space with data-driven analytics that will shift paradigms and push the envelope to achieve win-wins across the board. Or, in other words, we’re breaking America’s diplomatic and foreign aid capabilities because Donald Trump and his acolytes think that stuff is for wimps.

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