World update: October 2 2017


I was all set to roll my eyes out of my head when I saw this piece in Foreign Policy, headlined “Report: Hypersonic Missiles Could Trigger a War.” But then I read the piece and, unfortunately, it actually makes a pretty good argument:

Crunched for time with dire stakes, countries might adopt a so-called launch-on-warning doctrine, or they might just strike first. Without time to consult a traditional chain of command, nations might feel compelled to give the military command and control, increasing the likelihood of accidental war. Countries might also scatter their weapons in order to better respond, which would give terrorists greater opportunity to steal the weapons for themselves, the report said.

“None of these options is very good,” Speier said.

The US, China, and Russia are all believed to be close to developing hypersonic missiles, which could reduce the lead time in a potential missile strike to less than ten minutes. Hence the reason why their development might put countries on perpetual high alert, because there would no longer be any time to assess whether that problematic radar reading you just got was a genuine strike or a bug in the system. It seems like a disconcertingly strong possibility that, had these weapons existed 50 years ago, the Cold War would not have stayed cold. Their development now seems inevitable, so we’re relying on the good faith and competent leadership of the Russian, Chinese, and American governments to negotiate their deployment without condemning us all to oblivion. I know I’m confident.

The Boeing X-51, one of two hypersonic weapons the Pentagon is developing (Wikimedia)



Nawaz Sharif’s indictment by Pakistan’s anti-corruption Accountability Court will be delayed a week because his children, also implicated in his corruption case, failed to show up for court on Monday. Yeah, I know, but they’re apparently in London because their mother, Kulsoom Sharif (who’s also the new holder of Nawaz’s former seat in parliament) recently underwent surgery for throat cancer. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, was able to push a measure through parliament on Monday that will allow Sharif to resume his former position as the party’s leader even though he’s disqualified from holding public office.

A roadside bomb in Pakistan’s Swat Valley killed one person and wounded two others on Monday. The target seems to have been a local anti-Taliban leader named Ahmed Zeb–he was unharmed, but his father Mian Sher was the man who was killed.


Indian officials say that Pakistani fire across the line of control killed a 10 year old boy and 15 year old girl on Monday, while injuring 12 other civilians.

Meanwhile, Kashmiri militants reportedly attacked an Indian army camp in Srinagar early Tuesday morning, and the fighting there may still be going on.


Bangladesh and Myanmar announced Monday that they’re working on a plan to repatriate the more than 500,000 Rohingya who have fled into Bangladesh back into Myanmar. It is a major no-no in international law, not to mention completely morally repugnant, to relocate refugees back into a place where they are still at risk, and Bangladesh is going to risk international backlash if it tries to send the Rohingya back absent enforceable guarantees about their safety.


Prime Minister/dictator Hun Sen is now accusing opposition politicians of plotting with the United States to launch a “color revolution” against his government. Whether these allegations are true or not is sort of beside the point–they’re meant to justify Hun Sen’s systematic effort to repress and/or imprison all of his political opponents.


Rather than try to pick a fight with Donald Trump, his, you know, boss, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “clarified,” in the sense of contradicting, his comments about having open diplomatic channels to North Korea on Monday. Those diplomatic channels are purely for humanitarian purposes, you see, and the United States would never speak to North Korea about anything else absent a freeze in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. I’m glad we got that all cleared up and the president’s terrifyingly unhinged tweets are having the desired impact at the State Department.

On the plus side for North Korea, they just opened up a second internet connection via Russia to go with the one they already had via China. This is probably not great news for any potential victims of North Korean cyberattacks and it does make it harder to shut the country off from the internet if somebody wanted to attempt that for some reason.

The two women being tried in Malaysia for the February murder of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s estranged brother, pleaded not guilty in court on Monday. Both women say they were duped into poisoning the North Korean dissident, told that they were doing a prank for a reality TV show.


Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, who hopes someday to be Japan’s first female prime minister, won’t be assuming that office anytime soon. While her Party of Hope has emerged as a serious threat to Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s Liberal Democrats heading into this month’s election, Koike herself has opted not to stand for parliament this time around. She presumably likes her chances better in the next election, which might not happen until 2021–after she gets a chance to be the high-profile host of the 2020 Olympics.



Libyan peace talks in Tunis ended Sunday night with a plan to meet again in a week, so that’s good news. Negotiators from the country’s warring eastern and western governments are working on a plan to replace the west’s current, unwieldy nine-member presidential council with a representative three-member body that could serve as a transitional government on the road toward eventual elections.


Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga demonstrated in downtown Nairobi on Monday demanding major changes to the country’s election commission before the do-over presidential election scheduled for later this month. They were, naturally, met with tear gas by Kenyan police.


After killing at least eight people (some reports have it considerably higher than that) during independence demonstrations on Sunday in the country’s restive English-speaking region, Cameroonian authorities have now shut off the internet in that part of the country. This is usually an ominous sign that precedes a full-scale violent crackdown on dissent, but it also may reflect a desire to keep more news of Sunday’s violence from leaking out–especially if the death toll was, in fact, higher than eight.


Opposition leaders are making plans for mass public action in the last part of 2017 to force President Joseph Kabila out of office:

Opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have called for a new effort to oust President Joseph Kabila, who has yet to set dates for elections in the vast central African state despite his second term expiring nine months ago.

“The people are tired,” said Martin Fayulu, an opposition member of parliament, as he called for a month-long campaign of civil disobedience.

“They want elections and they want Kabila to go before the end of the year. Even football crowds are now chanting ‘Go Kabila Go’,” said Fayulu, who heads the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party.

Other prominent opposition figures have also told their supporters they should prepare for street protests and strikes in the coming weeks to put pressure on DRC’s ruler, who has held power since 2001.

Kabila is famously wrapping up the sixth year of his final five year term and, gosh, it looks like he’s going to have to serve a seventh year because it’s just so gosh darn hard to hold an election! Believe me, he’d like to leave office as required, but, hey, you know how it is, right? Public pressure forced Kabila to agree last December to hold an election before the end of this year, but as soon as the pressure came off that promise went out the window. More public pressure could move Kabila again, or it could motivate him to call out his army and start killing protesters.



German police were forced to quickly evacuate part of the southern Berlin neighborhood of Schöneberg on Monday after discovering yet another large (250 kilo) unexploded World War II-era bomb on an old railway site. Thousands of metric tons of unexploded WWII ordinance are found throughout Germany each year, but it still seems remarkable every time they find a new piece.

In another sign that reunification is still a work in progress in Germany 27 years after it formally happened, a new poll finds that almost two-thirds of Germans continue to see divisions between the country’s eastern and western segments. This isn’t really that surprising–as long as income and productivity in the east continue to lag behind the west, these divisions will remain and will continue to warp German politics.


Catalan leaders are likely to press forward with some kind of declaration of independence this week, following Sunday’s violent and low-turnout referendum that produced a tainted landslide victory for the pro-independence side. How Madrid will respond is anybody’s guess–Spanish courts will undoubtedly be busy, but given that it had no problem sending riot police in to hospitalize 800 or so Catalan voters, its unlikely the Spanish government will blanche at using more force to ensure Catalonia doesn’t go anywhere. The risk of political blowback to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is real–his actions are probably fueling support for Catalan independence–but limited, since the rest of the country is adamantly opposed to Catalonia breaking away and much of the country’s conservative media applauded the brutal crackdown on Sunday’s vote.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont says he doesn’t want a “traumatic split” with Spain, a ship that’s already sailed well out of port, and he does want European Union mediation with Madrid. I’m not sure if he’s actually serious, but that’s a ridiculous notion. The EU already made it clear that it stands behind Madrid, which is to be expected given that Brussels absolutely does not want Catalonia to become a model for separatist movements in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy…well, you get the idea.



Hey, you’ll never guess what happened to Nicolás Maduro’s lousy domestic approval ratings when Donald Trump decided to make him an Official American Enemy™:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s approval rating rose to 23 percent in September, up 6 percentage points from 17 percent in July, according to a poll by local firm Datanalisis.

The rebound followed several rounds of sanctions by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration as well as a sharp drop-off in four months of violent anti-government protests.

Nearly 52 percent of respondents opposed the Trump administration sanctions that came in response to the creation of a legislative superbody called the Constituent Assembly, which critics call the consolidation of a dictatorship.

Fifty-seven percent said they disagreed with the United States using a “military option” to push for change in Venezuela, in reference to Trump comments in August that were met with condemnation around the region.

Nobody could have predicted this, really. Well, nobody in this White House, anyway.


The latest AP story about the mystery sonic thing that’s been happening to US personnel in Cuba suggests that it was American spies in Cuba who were first targeted by the attack (assuming that’s what it was). This is somewhat at odds with Washington’s claim that “diplomatic personnel” were affected, though the spies were there under diplomatic cover. But when the same symptoms started to be reported by non-spies, that confounded theories as to the motive behind the attack (again, assuming it was an attack). The US government has started referring to these as attacks only recently, where previously it had used the term “incidents,” and it’s not clear what, if anything, prompted the change. All in all this continues to be one of the weirdest stories of a very weird year.


Obviously the biggest story today in the US was last night’s horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. The death toll stands at 59, with more than 500 people injured, after a gunman opened fire on an open-air concern from his room on the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel. The shooter, who apparently killed himself, has been identified as 64 year old Stephen Paddock, about whom very little seems to be known apart from the fact that he was a heavy gambler who didn’t, to anybody’s knowledge, have any particularly great interest in firearms. He had no criminal record, which is particularly confounding. His motive remains a mystery.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for this shooting, but at this point there is absolutely no reason to believe their claim. ISIS has good reason to lay claim to the deadliest mass shooting in American history, but as yet there’s no evidence linking Paddock to international terrorism and no evidence that he ever converted to Islam. Granted, ISIS generally doesn’t claim attacks in which it wasn’t at least an inspiration–they don’t “claim everything,” though the “ISIS-inspired” category covers a lot of ground. But nothing about this guy makes him seem like an ISIS recruit. He’s much too old, for one thing–ISIS doesn’t exactly have a history of recruiting American retirees. Moreover, if he killed himself, by his own hand, instead of forcing the police to do it or without killing others as in a suicide bombing, for jihadi terrorists that crosses the line from martyrdom, which is laudable, to suicide, which is sinful. A radicalized, ISIS-inspired convert would presumably know that. And, again, there’s not even any evidence that he was Muslim, let alone that he’d been radicalized.

On some level this is all futile–the people who want to believe this was an Islamic terrorist attack already believe it and nothing will change their minds. But it’s important to say it anyway. As new evidence comes in, maybe we’ll find out that Stephen Paddock was an ISIS acolyte, and if we do then so be it. But the phony stories that passed through the worst parts of the internet today were absolutely shameful, and we can’t lie down and allow liars, con artists, and hate-mongers to rewrite reality to serve their ends.

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