World update: September 27 2018



Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited the city of Ghazni on Thursday and was greeted by two Taliban rockets that landed near the facility where he was meeting with local officials. There’s been no report of any casualties.

In happier news, the US used an F-35 in combat for the first time on Thursday against a Taliban target. So all you naysayers can just shut up now–as long as it’s used against an enemy that has no air force and no air defenses, this $1.5 trillion plane gets the damn job done.


Hundreds of Kashmiris took to the streets of Srinagar on Thursday to protest against the Indian government after Indian soldiers killed a 26 year old man earlier in the day. The man was apparently suspected of being a Kashmiri rebel but was in fact a civilian, and protesters said he was killed in cold blood.


For reasons that I have to admit aren’t readily apparent to me, Rodrigo Duterte delivered a speech on Thursday in which he may have actually incriminated himself:

In a rambling speech before government executives at the presidential palace, Mr. Duterte again touched on the government’s drug war that has left thousands dead, a common theme in his two-year-old presidency.

He said he had challenged the country’s military and police brass to remove him from office if they were not satisfied with the way he was running the country.

“I told the military, what is my fault? Did I steal even one peso?” Mr. Duterte said. “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”

His only sin! Is the extrajudicial killings! And I mean, who hasn’t been there, am I right? Here’s the problem though–there are currently two cases against Duterte wending their way through the International Criminal Court over The Extrajudicial Killings, so blurting that out in a public speech was probably not the best idea he’s ever had.


Another US-chaired United Nations Security Council session didn’t go so well for the US on Thursday. This meeting, chaired by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over North Korea, involved the Russian and Chinese delegations both calling for UN sanctions against Pyongyang to be relaxed in light of diplomatic progress made since Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un in June. The US wants sanctions to remain until North Korean has denuclearized, whatever that eventually comes to mean.



Seven Malian soldiers and a driver were killed on Thursday when their vehicles hit roadside bombs in the central part of the country. Additionally, Malian authorities reported that at least 27 people were killed in Tuesday’s attack on a Tuareg community near the border with Niger. That’s up from the initial count of 12 killed and the updated count of 15 killed.


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa explained to Foreign Policy how he plans to approach land reform in order to avoid triggering white nationalists and upending the country’s agricultural sector the way Zimbabwe did back in the 1980s:

JT: As we alluded to earlier, your government’s plans for land reform have been the subject of a lot of disinformation. But how will South Africa pull it off without going down the road of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe?

CR: First, we’re not going to allow land grabs. Second, we’re not going to allow land to be redistributed to elites, to party hacks. We are going to ensure that redistribution of land has a great impact on the ordinary masses of our people because they are the ones who need it the most. We’ve got to transform the economy and make sure that more and more South Africans play a key role in the economy of their country. Even some land owners and companies are now saying, “We don’t need all this land.” We’re coming up with a multiplicity of solutions, and we’re going to confound everyone once again by resolving the land question, just like we did with the apartheid question.

JT: And you’re confident you can do this without damaging the agricultural sector? Because one of the risks of putting land in the hands of poor farmers is that while they may deserve it, they don’t know much about large-scale industrial farming.

CR: That’s where the government is going to step in to support them. But we’re also going to call upon those who are landowners now to partner with those who currently don’t own land. We will not go the way Zimbabwe went because we’re going to be smart.



With the far right Sweden Democrat party saying that it will not support any minority government unless its policy demands are met, and neither of Sweden’s main political alliances willing to meet those demands, the country’s politics seem to be at an impasse. Either current Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s center-left bloc will form a government with the backing of at least a couple of the center-right bloc’s member parties, or vice versa. But neither bloc has any reason to back down at this point.


Italy’s coalition government extended a proverbial middle finger squarely in Brussels’ direction on Thursday, setting its budget deficit target for next year to 2.4 percent of GDP. That’s within the European Union’s three percent limit but substantially higher than the its two percent target for Italy, which would have prevented the deficit from adding to Italy’s mounting national debt. But it was necessary to fulfill both the League’s demand for tax cuts and the Five Star Movement’s demand for improved welfare spending (including a basic income) and worker benefits. If those measures spur increased economic growth then the actual deficit could still come in at a lower percentage.



Argentina’s massive International Monetary Fund bailout, which is supposed to help stabilize the peso, didn’t have an immediate impact on Thursday. The Argentine currency dropped to almost 41 to the dollar on Thursday. Investor types are worried that the IMF’s austerity package is going to contract the Argentine economy, which to be fair it probably will.


The International Court of Justice will rule Monday on a complaint by Bolivia demanding that Chile negotiate to allow it some access to the Pacific Ocean. It’s unclear what will happen if the ICJ rules in Bolivia’s favor, which would oblige Chile to negotiate but wouldn’t impose any requirements as to the outcome of those negotiations. Bolivia has been demanding a land bridge to the ocean, but that would require Chile to give up territory which seems unlikely to say the least. Chile could offer Bolivia access to its ports, but Bolivia may not be satisfied with that.


Finally, political news today was dominated by the testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. Supreme Court nominations proceedings are definitely not the purview of this blog and at any rate I was too outraged by what I saw today to comment coherently on it. But I did want to highlight this piece from Just Security last month about the impact that Kavanaugh’s appointment to the court could have on how the United States approaches international law, especially with regard to questions of war and human rights:

The nominee’s views place him in the company of the “New Sovereigntists,” the name given by legal scholar Peter Spiro on the eve of the Bush administration to a group of academics and policy analysts seeking to limit the authority of international law over U.S. policy.  Among those profiled in Spiro’s 2000 article were John Yoo, a law professor who went on to join the Bush administration and write many of the torture memos, and Jack Goldsmith, another law professor who became director of the administration’s Office of Legal Counsel in October 2003. In June 2004, Goldsmith withdrew one of the principal torture memos and resigned in the fallout, but he did not withdraw authorization of the enhanced interrogation techniques previously approved on the basis of the memo.

Goldsmith had co-authored an influential Harvard Law Review article in 1997 challenging the authority of customary international law. Described by Spiro as “the opening salvo in the New Sovereigntist Crusade,” the article is invoked in the Yoo-Delahunty memo, and helps build the foundation for Kavanaugh’s Bihani opinion as well as a 2004 minority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia arguing that the Alien Tort Statute may not be used to enforce customary international law.

While Goldsmith’s views have moderated over time, Kavanaugh situates himself at the far end of the New Sovereigntist movement. Goldsmith has argued that Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of military force does not authorize (though neither does it prohibit) acts that violate the international law of war. In Bihani, Kavanaugh expressly rejected any such interpretive limit on the congressional authorization of military force.

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