World update: October 3 2018



NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg promised on Wednesday that Georgia will one day be a member of the transatlantic alliance. Which is great, I bet the Russians will be really happy for Georgia.


Eurasianet’s Joshua Kucera has more on the latest political tensions in Armenia:

Armenians poured into the streets of Yerevan on October 2, summoned by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who said that the country was at risk of a “counter-revolution” fomented by remnants of the regime he toppled in the spring. A day later, the situation remained in a standoff between Pashinyan and his opposition, and the crisis has posed the most dramatic challenge to Pashinyan’s “Velvet Revolution” in the five months he’s been in power.

So how did it come to this?


Three separate Taliban attacks overnight–in Nimroz province, Kandahar province, and Faryab province–left at least nine Afghan police officers dead along with at least 10 Taliban fighters.


The European Union may levy trade sanctions against Myanmar over the Rohingya situation. The EU is Myanmar’s sixth-largest trade partner so this move would have major ramifications for the Myanmar economy. In order to avoid an immediate crisis, Brussels may opt to trigger a review process that would give Myanmar a deadline to conform to specified humanitarian standards before the sanctions kick in. Or it may decide to do nothing at all.


The Chinese government has yet to pull the trigger on one potential response to US tariffs–devaluing the yuan. If the yuan were to lose value it could counteract the effect of those tariffs and allow Chinese exports to remain competitive. It could also allow China to flex its economic muscles a bit. However, there is a big potential downside:

But there’s another reason that a falling renminbi might appeal to policymakers in Beijing: It could spook global stock markets, including in the United States. When China devalued the renminbi in the summer of 2015, stock markets around the world shuddered. Given the importance of buoyant stock prices to Trump’s perception of his economic stewardship, such a move could get his attention, Brooks said.

“If the trade hawks in Beijing prevail, they may argue, first of all we need to weaken the currency to offset tariffs, and, second, if we can unsettle the stock market, maybe we can weaken the resolve of the U.S. president,” he said.

But there are plenty of risks to such an action. China suffered massive capital flight during the currency depreciation of 2015 to 2016, as Chinese investors sought to move out of renminbi-denominated assets. Allowing the renminbi to fall further in value could spark another huge capital outflow. Then again, after that episode, Beijing put some restrictions in place to limit capital flight, which might make devaluation more tempting.

The big question remains: Are Chinese policymakers more afraid that the trade war will poleax the economy, or that a cheaper renminbi will lead to another exodus of Chinese capital?


The Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (!) ruled on Tuesday that Japan’s “scientific” sei whale hunt is illegal under international law on account of the fact that Japan just happens to put the meat from the whales it kills up for sale. Japan’s scientific whale hunts have always been pretty flimsy cover for what is still a commercial whaling operation. It remains to be seen how Japan will respond.



The BBC has a nice explainer up about the conflict in anglophone Cameroon, with background on the militias that are leading the separatist push there:

The Red Dragons, Tigers and Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) – these are just some of the armed groups which have sprung up to fight for independence in English-speaking parts of Cameroon, posing a major security threat to Sunday’s elections, in which President Paul Biya, 85, is seeking to extend his 36-year rule.

In the absence of reliable opinion polls, it is impossible to gauge the level of their support but the authorities’ brutal crackdown has only pushed more of the local population into the arms of the separatists, analysts say.

The militias, formed in the past 12 months, have made many small towns and villages in the two main Anglophone regions, the North-West and South-West, “ungovernable”, something unimaginable just a few years ago, Nigeria-based Cameroon analyst Nna-Emeka Okereke told the BBC.


The United Nations Security Council released a statement on Wednesday calling on the warring parties in the DRC to stop fighting in order to allow authorities to get control over the Ebola outbreak in the northeastern part of the country. Two confirmed cases of the disease have now been diagnosed close to the Ugandan border, raising fears that the outbreak could spread beyond the DRC’s borders. So far 71 people have died in this outbreak out of 124 diagnosed cases since the outbreak was announced in August.



Thomas Meaney and Saskia Schäfer, who have studied the far right in Germany, describe the links between violent far right extremists and the German security state:

When it comes to far-right extremism, German law enforcement has made little secret of its priorities. While a paltry number of police officers responded in Chemnitz and to similar incidents elsewhere, they were deployed en masse — and with state-of-the-art gear — for a protest days later in North Rhine-Westphalia, where German environmental activists continue to defend a primeval forest against a coal-mining project. During the visit last month by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to Germany, two police officers deployed to Berlin from Saxony were discovered to have used the code name “Uwe Böhnhardt,” the name of one of the members of the terror cell the National Socialist Underground, which in the 2000s murdered 10 Turkish-Germans and others, in the most striking known example of domestic right-wing terrorism since the end of the war.

Should the right-wing ties with the police really have come as a surprise? For decades, the German security services, and the B.F.V. in particular, have been accused of operating sympathetically — even symbiotically — with elements of the far right. But with the recent rise of Alternative for Germany, the far-right, anti-immigrant party that polls rank as the second-most popular party in the country, this symbiosis has taken on new urgency.


In an attempt to appease the European Union, the Italian government says it will look to reduce its deficit targets for 2020 and beyond. When it announced a deficit target of 2.4 percent for 2019, raising fears that it would add to Italy’s debt, the coalition government said it would maintain that target for three years. But now it says it will look to reduce its 2020 target to 2.2 percent and its 2021 target to 2 percent.



A new Ibope poll finds Jair Bolsonaro nine points ahead of Fernando Haddad, 32-23, heading into Sunday’s presidential election. Assuming Bolsonaro does not get a late surge that takes him over 50 percent, the two will likely meet in a runoff later this month. Haddad is now accusing Bolsonaro of engaging in hashtag fake news ahead of the vote:

Haddad accused Bolsonaro of sending false WhatsApp messages, including one that the leftist was plotting to let authorities choose the gender of 5-year-olds. Another showed a manipulated picture of his running mate Manuela D’Avila wearing a shirt that read “Jesus is a transvestite.” A third featured the candidate supposedly saying election day had been switched from Sunday Oct. 7 to Monday.

This is a change of tactic by Haddad, who had seemed content to let Bolsonaro’s open fascism sink him in the runoff, but new polling that has shown Bolsonaro potentially winning the runoff has apparently gotten Haddad to go on the attack.


Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke with Donald Trump by phone on Wednesday. Good for him. The two reportedly talked about ways to boost economic development in southern Mexico and Central America in order to tamp down migration. Yes I’m sure Trump was keenly engaged on the policy details as usual.


Finally, Foreign Policy reports on the battle between the Trump administration and Congress over funding US international commitments. Congress is generally in favor of maintaining those commitments, but the administration is trying to use its bureaucratic leeway to cut funding even where that contradicts Congress’s wishes:

The email, obtained exclusively by Foreign Policy, provides a snapshot of a wider effort by the White House and its appointees in the State Department to starve America’s foreign assistance programs through bureaucratic maneuverings, even though those programs retain broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

For several months, senior Trump appointees in the State Department have engaged in fierce behind-the-scenes battles with Congress over employing this tactic on funding for key human rights and women’s issues programs at the U.N., according to State Department officials and congressional aides familiar with the matter.

“They have tried every trick in the book to slash funding for diplomacy and foreign aid, but so far they have failed,” said one Democratic Senate aide. “It’s come down to trying to micromanage the uses of the funds.”


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