World update: December 4 2017



Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Pakistan on Monday to call for increased Pakistani cooperation to counter the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. The Trump administration continues to threaten to cut Pakistani aid unless the military and ISI stop supporting those groups, and all I can say is, good luck with that:

“There is not an effective stick anymore because Pakistan doesn’t really care about U.S aid, it has been dwindling anyway and it is getting the money it needs elsewhere … treat it with respect and actually reward it when it does do something good,” said Madiha Afzal, with the Brookings Institution.

“Elsewhere” there means “from China,” in case you were wondering.


Here’s an interesting development. Crew members on a Cathay Pacific flight say they witnessed North Korea’s missile test last week while over Japan. That’s already bad, because it suggests the missile test came uncomfortably close to interfering with a civilian flight. But the interesting part is that the crew members say they saw the missile “blow up” mid-flight. One of the remaining technical hurdles North Korea needs to demonstrate it can overcome to prove it’s a nuclear threat to the continental US is designing a warhead that can survive atmospheric reentry. Admittedly this is a very anecdotal report, but it suggests they haven’t yet gotten there.



It’s been some time since we last heard anything from Liberia, but that should change this week. At last check, the country’s Supreme Court had suspended the second round of the presidential election pending the results of an investigation into alleged irregularities in the first round. That investigation has been completed–it concluded that the irregularities in the first round didn’t affect the outcome–and the court is expected to rule on Thursday on an appeal filed by the Liberty Party, whose candidate came in third and just missed the runoff.


The African Union is beginning a long-term plan to draw down its mission in Somalia (AMISOM), but the mission’s commander, Fransisco Madeira, is worried that it’s too soon to start handing security responsibilities over to the Somali army. He’s hoping the United Nations will be able to fill in gaps created by the AU withdrawal.


Kenyan authorities say they arrested opposition political strategist David Ndii on Sunday on suspicion of inciting violence, but Ndii was released on Monday.


One UN peacekeeper was killed and three more wounded on Monday when an anti-balaka militia attacked a checkpoint in southeastern CAR.



Germany’s Social Democrats are holding a party congress this weekend to decide whether or not to enter serious negotiations with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats on forming a coalition government. Party leaders have already said they’re going to go into the negotiations opposing conservative restrictions on the rights of asylum seekers to bring their families to Germany with them, so expect that to be the first point of dispute. Plenty of SPD members want nothing to do with another coalition government, so assuming they approve starting negotiations it promises to be an interesting process.


New polling suggests that pro-secession parties are may lose their collective majority in the Catalan legislature in the December 21 election. The three parties are seen winning 67 seats, just barely winding up a minority in the region’s 135 seat parliament.


Theresa May had quite a day, didn’t she? She opened it with what appeared to be a huge breakthrough on Brexit–basically, she caved (as she’s done on every other outstanding Brexit issue) on the Northern Ireland border, agreeing to Ireland’s demand that, for all intents and purposes, Northern Ireland would not actually leave the EU along with the rest of Britain. Almost immediately, this happened:

Both of these tweets were completely predictable–if May was going to carve out a special exception for Northern Ireland, of course Scotland, Wales, and London were going to come looking for the same arrangement. All of May’s Brexit plans were completely blown up. Then, her government may have blown up:

The UK and EU have failed to reach an agreement to move to the next stage of Brexit talks, Theresa May has said.


The prime minister said talks would reconvene “before the end of the week” and she was “confident we will conclude this positively”.


The talks are understood to have broken down after the Democratic Unionist Party refused to accept concessions on the Irish border issue.

As you may recall, because of May’s decision to call snap elections back in June and then completely bungle the campaign, she no longer controls a majority in parliament. She’s still prime minister only because the DUP agreed to a confidence and supply arrangement with the Tories. At the time, it was suggested that handing a massive amount of power to an unhinged right wing regional party might come back to bite May in the ass some day. Well, today appears to be that day.

May now has to scramble to appease the DUP somehow so that she can complete a Northern Ireland framework before the EU meets later this month to decide whether or not it’s time to start negotiations on a post-Brexit trade relationship between the EU and the UK. If she can’t do that, then there may not be a post-Brexit trade relationship between the EU and the UK. At that point, May could try to negotiate a lengthy transition period for the UK to remain in the single market while a deal is worked out. But there’s a very good chance that if she does that, she’ll face an intra-party revolt by her pro-Brexit members, probably led by Boris Johnson and/or Michael Gove. Her position is rapidly becoming untenable, and this is with the bulk of Brexit talks still ahead of her.

And the thing is, the DUP may be nuts but I don’t know that they’re wrong on this. How can Britain be out of the EU if Northern Ireland is operating under a system that basically leaves no border between it and Ireland? If there’s no border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and no border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, then, you know, there’s no border between Ireland and the UK. And that means there’s no border between the EU and the UK. But somehow May thought that was the solution to her problems.



Sociologist Timothy Gill from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington argues that a military coup is not likely to hit Venezuela:

In any event, there is no evidence that an uprising within the Venezuelan military is likely. Many people in the military have too much skin in the game. As the United States and other countries have implicated Venezuelan military leaders in human rights violations, they and their subordinates recognize that prosecution would become more likely under an opposition government.


What is more, Venezuelan military leaders are clearly benefiting from Maduro government policies. They control the logistics of food distribution, the import and export of additional products. More than any other group, they will gain if the Maduro government continues to hold power. In late November 2017, Maduro also appointed Maj. Gen. Manuel Quevedo as head of the national oil industry, effectively ceding control over the country’s most coveted resource to the military.


Lower-level officers may come from poor neighborhoods and see the consequences of the crisis first hand, but they still have a lot of access to food and other benefits. Because the opposition lacks any serious solution to the economic crisis, military figures — both senior and junior — are more inclined to stick with the government.

Gill also argues that a coup would be very bad for Venezuela, especially given the country’s history with military interventions. But I’m not sure why he felt the need to write that–I mean, only some kind of psychopath would suggest that a military coup is something to be welcomed, right?


Two developments in the disputed Honduran presidential election to talk about tonight. First, the Organization of American States announced on Monday that it would not back results showing incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández narrowing winning a second term:

“The tight margin, along with the irregularities, errors and systematic problems that have surrounded this election, does not allow the mission to be certain about the results,” said former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga, heading the OAS election observation mission in the Central American country.

At this point Hernández has a lead of 42.98 percent to challenger Salvador Nasralla’s 41.39 percent with nearly all the votes counted, but Honduran election officials won’t declare the results official and Nasralla is still pushing for a wide recount.

The second development is that Honduran police have announced that they will stay in barracks until the political crisis is resolved, defying orders from Hernández to continue enforcing a national curfew. Their enforcement of said curfew has already led to several deaths over the past few days, so this is probably a good thing.


The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Monday that the latest version of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban can go into effect while legal challenges to it are being heard. Only Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor voted to uphold lower court injunctions against the ban. The ruling suggests that the court is likely to rule in favor of the ban when it hears a full case on it, but I’m not sure how big a surprise it is that a Republican-stacked court is likely to support the Republican president.

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