World update: May 3 2018



Armenia’s Republican Party said on Thursday that the country will have a new prime minister after next week’s parliamentary vote. And while they didn’t specify it seems pretty likely that opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan is finally going to get the job since he is, at least at this point, the only declared candidate for it. Vahram Baghdasaryan, the Republicans’ floor leader in parliament, met with Pashinyan earlier in the day and then declared that his party will support any candidate who gets the support of at least 1/3 of legislators next week. If for some reason nobody is elected prime minister next week, according to Armenian law the country must hold a new election.


The Myanmar government wants to screen potential aid recipients in Kachin state. Thousands of civilians there have been displaced in fighting between the Myanmar army and separatist rebels, in a conflict that’s beginning to look more and more like the Rohingya conflict in Rakhine state. Myanmar wants to ensure that the aid only reaches displaced civilians, but in the meanwhile this screening process is likely to delay help that these people desperately need.


On Wednesday, CNBC reported that China has built up its military strength in disputed areas of the South China Sea:

China has quietly installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its fortified outposts west of the Philippines in the South China Sea, a move that allows Beijing to further project its power in the hotly disputed waters, according to sources with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence reports.


Intelligence assessments say the missile platforms were moved to the outposts in the Spratly Islands within the past 30 days, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


The placement of the defensive weapons also comes on the heels of China’s recent South China Sea installation of military jamming equipment, which disrupts communications and radar systems. By all accounts, the new coastal defense systems represent a significant addition to Beijing’s military portfolio in one of the most contested regions in the world.

The White House on Thursday said there would be “consequences” to China’s militarization, but who knows what that means.


Pyongyang is reportedly about to release three US citizens it’s holding prisoner as a goodwill gesture in the lead up to a potential Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit.


Trump, meanwhile, has reportedly ordered the Pentagon to explore plans for reducing the US troop presence in South Korea. This is not really meant as a goodwill gesture, but is rather a reflection of Trump’s new apparent obsession with getting US forces out of South Korea unless the South Korean and Japanese governments pay for their continued deployment somehow.

While there are good arguments to be made for removing troops from South Korea (and otherwise reducing the US global footprint) in the long term, with his negotiations with Kim looming it would seem like Trump should be trying to keep things as calm as possible for the next few weeks. Whatever need there might be for US soldiers in South Korea would greatly diminish if the two Koreas signed a peace treaty and North Korea agreed to verifiably disarm. Those things should be the focus, and if Trump is eager to withdrawn then maybe the US troop presence can be used as a chit in negotiations with Pyongyang. I’m no President Deals, obviously, but this seems like a time to hoard your chits, not start giving them away for nothing.



Tunisia’s democratic successes are being threatened by…austerity? No, wait, austerity is Good, that can’t be ri-

Scholars and economists have warned for years that Tunisia’s economic problems could thwart its political progress. But now a raft of critics are blaming financial measures promoted by international lenders and advisers, and taken up by inexperienced Tunisian politicians, for making them worse and setting off an economic and political crisis.


“When you impoverish the poor and middle class you undermine democracy,” said Jihen Chandoul, an economist and co-founder of the Tunisian Observatory of Economy, a research institute. “What’s hurting the democratic process are austerity measures we’ve been asked to implement to access loans. Tunisian democracy is in danger.”


It is a pattern that has played out around the world, in Latin America, Asia and recently Greece, as the International Monetary Fund and other Western lenders demand that governments balance their budgets and open their economies. Those policies often produce jarring hardship and political upheaval that can undermine support for the very kind of democratic and capitalist systems the West is trying to build.

Polling shows more than 80 percent of Tunisians say the country is headed in the wrong direction, between slow growth, high unemployment (especially among young people), and a weak currency. Austerity, courtesy of IMF loan requirements, is only making these things worse. This is all causing the Tunisian electorate to drift back towards authoritarianism, with a growing belief that only a strong leader can put the political class in its place and right the ship. Tunisia has been the one Arab Spring success story, even through a series of terrorist attacks that threatened to tilt the country toward a police state. But it’s all being frittered away because of the West’s obsession with austerity.


The Pentagon said on Thursday that it believes Chinese nationals in Djibouti have for several weeks been shining lasers at US pilots flying into and out of the US military base there. The US has even filed a formal diplomatic complaint with Beijing.


A number of political allies of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, including seven of his cabinet ministers, lost their primary elections earlier this week. This points to lingering divisions within Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF party, presumably over his ouster of longtime President Robert Mugabe last year. Whether those divisions will hurt the party overall remains to be seen–the general election is scheduled for July.



Ukrainian politics may dictate an escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. With President Petro Poroshenko currently polling in fourth place ahead of next year’s general election, on April 30 he shifted Kiev’s posture in the east from an “antiterror operation” to a “joint forces operation.” This changes the mission from a short-term (at least as it was envisioned when it began in 2014) defensive one to a long-term offensive one–regaining the Donbas and Crimea, no matter how long it takes. Obviously any escalation from Kiev, especially any move against Crimea, would raise the risk of bringing Russia more directly into the war.


Basque separatist group ETA, which waged a violent campaign in Spain and France from 1959 through its disarmament last year, issued an audio communique on Thursday officially announcing its disbandment. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his government will continue to pursue members of the group to punish them for the crimes it committed.


The British government can’t even agree internally on how it should deal with the post-Brexit Irish border, let alone manage to negotiate a plan with Brussels. Theresa May herself, along with a few of her less hardline ministers, prefers to remain in a customs partnership with the EU, one that would require the UK to collect customs duties for Brussels and would limit its ability to negotiate independent trade deals. They see it as the only way to avoid reimposing a hard border in Northern Ireland. Brexit Secretary David Davis, along with other cabinet hardliners, prefer a clean break that relies on “maximum facilitation” to solve the border problem. “Maximum facilitation” basically amounts to handwaving a solution involving significantly faster customs and border checks based on unnamed “technology.” Technology, after all, is basically magic to most politicians and can therefore do anything. Sounds like a foolproof idea.

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