World update: June 2-3 2018



An archeologist was killed and four other people wounded on Saturday by a roadside bomb near the Mes Aynak dig site. No group has claimed responsibility but the goal may be to delay or undermine plans to mine copper at the site. Mes Aynak contains Afghanistan’s largest copper reserves but it’s also a valuable archeological site for material dating back thousands of years, and Afghan authorities plan on excavating the site before commencing with any mining operations.

A new UNICEF study finds that 44 percent of Afghan children between the ages of seven and seventeen are out of school, a figure due in part to the destruction and/or closure of schools as a result of Afghanistan’s ongoing war but also due to rising discrimination against girls. Girls make up as many as 60 percent of the children who are out of school, and the study found that only a third of Afghan girls are currently in school.


Riots broke out in Srinagar on Saturday at the funeral of a Kashmiri protester who was run over by police on Friday and died from his injuries. Indian authorities say their officers were defending themselves from attack but protesters and some witnesses say they appeared to deliberately drive into a crowd of protesters.


Philippine authorities say that the Maute Group is recruiting child fighters from among the orphans created during its assault on Marawi last year:


During his remarks at this weekend’s Shangri-La international security summit, US Defense Secretary James Mattis laid into China over its South China Sea activities:

“China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness that our strategy promotes, it calls into question China’s broader goals,” said Mattis, who said he would be traveling to Beijing this month.


“The U.S. will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperation whenever possible will be the name of the game and competing vigorously where we must … of course we recognize any sustainable Indo-Pacific order has a role for China,” he said.

Mattis criticized Beijing for placing weapons on disputed South China Sea islands, something the Chinese government believes is its right as it claims the entire South China Sea as its territorial waters. He further made it clear that the US will continue to supply weapons to Taiwan, another major sore spot in US-China relations.


Robin Wright cautions not to expect much by way of major developments from the June 12 Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit in Singapore:

Trump did not appear to get a formal pledge of denuclearization—or even an agreement on a common definition—in his conversation with Kim Yong Chol. “I think they want to do that,” Trump told reporters. But the “that” covers a wide range of options. The United States has long called for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization—or C.V.I.D., in diplomatic lingo—by North Korea. But there are still unanswered questions within the Administration about how much that encompasses. At a congressional hearing last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked how he defined denuclearization. Pompeo, who has visited Pyongyang twice since Easter and is now the point man on North Korea, said that the U.S. includes elements beyond North Korea’s bombs, including missile-delivery systems and fissile material. Pressed on whether North Korea might be allowed a civilian nuclear program to meet energy demands, Pompeo replied, “I’m not in a position that I can answer that question for you today.”


It’s also not clear what Pyongyang might want from Washington in return for denuclearization—however the term is defined. North Korea has previously suggested that it wants the United States to stop providing a nuclear umbrella as protection for South Korea. Coming to a common understanding of denuclearization will be the first subject of the summit in Singapore, now just eleven days away.

If the administration can’t agree internally on what it means by “denuclearization,” what are the chances Trump will be able to hash it out with Kim? On the plus side, I guess, there’s a fair chance (though it’s probably still a long shot) that Kim and Trump will agree to allow McDonald’s to open a franchise in Pyongyang, if for no other reason than so that the two of them will have something to eat if Trump ever visits Kim in the North Korean capital. For better or worse, McDonald’s is US soft power, so this wouldn’t be an insignificant development. Note that I’m not saying it would be a positive one.

In an interesting development as the summit approaches, South Korean media says that the three top officials in the North Korean military–Defense Minister Pak Yong-sik; head of the Korean People’s Army general staff Ri Myong-su, and director of the KPA’s political bureau Kim Jong-gak–have all recently been replaced. Whether this reflects some military opposition to the summit is unclear.

The New York Times looks at the discussions between Washington and Pyongyang over logistical arrangements. One peculiar bit involves Kim’s insistence that someone else pay his hotel bill. For the US to pick up the tab directly could be perceived as an insult and would probably run afoul of US sanctions, so US officials may ask Singapore to pay instead, perhaps with the promise of reimbursement.



This is a silly story but I got a kick out of it so you’re stuck with it. The Tunisian national soccer (yes OK football whatever) club is playing World Cup friendlies during Ramadan, while most of the team is fasting. Since these games take place in the evening, they run right through the time when most Muslims are breaking the fast. It must suck to try to play soccer (yes I know, I get it) after not eating or drinking anything all day, so the team has come up with a novel way to allow the players to get a quick bite and drink after sundown: their goalie fakes an injury. While he’s lying there in “pain” the players all run to the sidelines and grab some dates and water, then they finish the match.


At least 16 people were injured in clashes between protesters and police in Bamako on Saturday. The protesters, organized by opposition leaders who are running for president in next month’s election, were calling for more electoral transparency and for state media to give more time to opposition candidates.


Yet another attack by cattle rustlers in northern Nigeria over the weekend has left at least 23 people dead in Zamfara state. Cattle theft violence, which is related to frequent clashes between predominantly Muslim Fulani herders and predominantly Christian farmers in the central part of the country, may be killing more Nigerians than the Boko Haram insurgency.


The Ethiopian parliament is expected on Monday to lift the country’s state of emergency two months ahead of schedule. So far the accession of new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seems to have bought the government time with protesters whose mass demonstrations toppled Hailemariam Desalegn’s government back in February and led to the imposition of the state of emergency.

Ahmed’s government has announced plans to construct a navy, which seems like kind of an odd choice of investment for a landlocked country but OK. Ports around the Horn of Africa have become prime targets for Middle Eastern and particularly Gulf states seeking to expand their commercial and military footprints, so in that sense there is some logic to Ethiopia’s desire for a naval force. The Ethiopian government has invested in Port Sudan and Djibouti and presumably would use those as naval bases at least to start.


Al-Shabab seized control of the town of Muqokori, in central Somalia, after an attack late Friday. Somali forces had driven the group out of that town last month.


The BBC reports on the growth of jihadi cells in Mozambique:

In 2015, poorly educated and marginalised young men, many of them itinerant street traders in Mocimboa da Praia, formed small groups and began to organise around a rudimentary form of Islamic fundamentalism.


They blamed both the mosques and the Mozambican state for their plight, and decided to challenge both.


Groups marched into local mosques wearing shoes and carrying knives as an intentional sign of disrespect of what they saw as “degenerate Islam”. Local people called them “al-Shabab”, simply local Arabic for youth, or just “the Shababs”.

These young men were employed and nurtured by Mozambique’s smuggling community, which paid to send them abroad to train with seasoned Islamist fighters. They’re now engaged in a guerrilla campaign that they hope will draw a heavy response from the government that goes too far and helps bolster their support.



Forget Trump-Kim–the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the Trump administration is laying the groundwork for a summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Presumably to talk tactics for the 2018 midterm and Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

I KID! But seriously, that’s probably what they’ll talk about.

Trump and Putin have already met twice and gotten nowhere so this doesn’t seem like that big a deal except insofar as it will hopefully hasten the death of cable news as all the networks lose their shit over the meeting, but each in different ways.

Ex-British diplomat Tony Brenton argues that Russia is not the major threat to Western civilization that it’s sometimes cracked up to be:

Russia is not a revanchist state. She is not planning to invade any of her neighbours or rebuild the USSR. The many who use Putin’s quote that “the fall of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century” fail to add the balancing quote (from the same speech) that “those who want to restore the USSR have no brains”.  The two main events offered as evidence of revanchism – the Georgia war of 2008, and the Donbass war and annexation of Crimea in 2014 – were both Russian reactions to external events.  It was Georgia, not Russia, that started the 2008 war, and the Ukraine events were precipitated by the popular overthrow (with, as the Russians saw it, distinct US involvement) of Ukraine’s pro-Russia President.  With the conspicuous exception of Crimea (which has its own very special history) Russia in both cases refused any other possibility of territorial gain.


Not only is Russia not revanchist but she is, and knows she is, weak by comparison with the West.  Her defence expenditure is one-tenth, and GDP one-fifth, of those of NATO.  She is not going to get into a military confrontation which she knows she would lose. The Russians’ view of their current confrontation with the West is that they are on the defensive against a much larger and essentially predatory opponent. They see accusations that they are intent on subverting and undermining the West as deliberately misleading and way beyond their country’s reach.


As expected, the hard right, xenophobic Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) has come out on top in Sunday’s parliamentary election, bringing in around 25 percent of the vote–well ahead of the second place List of Marjan Šarec, which clocked in at slightly under 13 percent. Now the question is whether SDS is so far right as to be toxic to potential coalition partners. It will likely come away with about 25 seats, which means it will need around 20 other seats for a majority in the 90 seat parliament. The center-right New Slovenian party says it will work with the SDS, which brings its seven seats into play. LMŠ will come in around 13 seats and, though center-left in outlook, might be convinced to join a coalition government. If that doesn’t work out SDS could have a hard time cobbling together a coalition.


New Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez looks like he might eschew building a majority coalition and form a minority government with a cabinet made up mostly of members of his Socialist Workers’ Party, with perhaps a few independents thrown in. This seems like an…interesting choice for someone who says he wants his government to survive for two years until the next scheduled parliamentary election in 2020.

Catalonia’s new government was sworn in on Saturday and hit the ground running, with regional President Quim Torra promising that he would be “committed to moving towards an independent state.” So that should be a fun challenge for new PM Sánchez, who owes his new job in part to Catalan separatist parties in the Spanish parliament.



Six more people were killed by Nicaraguan forces on Saturday as protests against President Daniel Ortega show no sign of abating. At least 100 people have been killed since these protests started back in April.


The Cuban government is undertaking a program, led by former president and still Communist Party leader Raúl Castro, to reform its constitution in order to open up its society. It’s unclear what changes will actually be made, but market-oriented economic reforms, protection of LGBT rights including possibly same-sex marriage, and political changes like term limits are reportedly under consideration.

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