World update: October 16 2018



Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan resigned on Tuesday in order to trigger an early election that will probably be held in December. Pashinyan became PM at the head of a wave of popular support in May but the opposition Republican Party still controls a majority of seats in parliament. Pashinyan wants a new election to give himself a working majority.


At least 24 members of Afghan security forces were killed in Taliban attacks overnight. At least 11 police officers were killed, 30 wounded, and 15 captured in a Taliban raid in Samangan province, while at least eight soldiers and five police officers were killed in a Taliban attack in Daikundi province.


China’s Belt and Road Initiative is running into some challenges in Laos–specifically, finding qualified Laotian workers who won’t up and quit their projects–that suggest the overall program might need to be tweaked to fit local circumstances:

This lack of motivation, even in the face of financial benefits, can be ascribed to Lao demographics. Laos covers an area of 236,800 square kilometers and has a population of almost 7 million people, making it possible to allot abundant land to each individual household. Additionally, all agricultural lands are privatized, providing locals with accommodation and fulfilling their dietary needs. Lao citizens are satisfied with their present conditions and not eager to change the status quo.

The lack of funds for a developing country like Laos is another stumbling block, causing a shortage of specialized skills and talented recruits. China, then, must pick up the slack by bringing in Chinese workers. Ever since Laos and China first formally established diplomatic relations in 1961, trade between the two countries have been lopsided in China’s favor. In recent years, the renovation of the Lang Prabang Airport and establishment of the World Trade Center, both collaborative projects on paper, eventually became unilateral as China CAMC Engineering dominated nearly every step of the process. Lao dependence on Chinese enterprises to jumpstart the economy forces it to constantly rely on Chinese financial support as well as manpower.


The governments of North and South Korea and the United National Command completed a first-ever three way negotiation on Tuesday over ways to demilitarize the Korean border. They reportedly discussed measures like closing guard posts, reducing military personnel, and cutting the amount of surveillance gear along the border. No decisions were taken but the expectation is that these three-way meetings will continue.



Khalifa Haftar has reopened an investigation into the killing of rebel leader Abdel Fattah Younes by other rebel fighters back in 2011. Why? Well, probably because the prime suspect in that case, Ali Essawi, just got an appointment as the economy minister for the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli–the one Haftar sees as his biggest obstacle to taking control of the country–earlier this month. Political considerations aside, Essawi is extremely unpopular in eastern Libya because of the part he’s believed to have played in Younes’ killing.


US Africa Command said on Tuesday that it carried out a drone strike on October 12 in that killed 60 al-Shabab fighters near the town of Harardhere in central Somalia. It’s Africa Command’s biggest airstrike since November of last year.



Authorities in Russian-annexed Ukraine are looking to Syrian tourism to boost the region’s weakened economy:

It would be one of the world’s more unusual direct flights.

But bringing Syrian soldiers and civilians to a Black Sea resort is exactly what was on offer Tuesday, when a delegation from Crimea visited Damascus, the Syrian capital.

“We understand that restrictions related to trade, money transfers and tourism are similar to what we have in Crimea,” said Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, Russia’s top official there. Both Syria and Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine four years ago, have been hit by Western sanctions, and their economies are struggling. “We should turn our minuses into our advantages,” Aksyonov said during his two-day trip to Syria.

The visiting cohort of government officials proposed linking Crimea’s capital of Simferopol by air with Damascus, a flight that would allow “both the civilian population and those who were at war” to vacation at a resort, according to Crimean tourism minister Vadim Volchenko. If established, the flight would be the first of its kind. Despite having a sleek new international airport, Crimea has not had international flights since its annexation.



Jair Bolsonaro’s knife wound is proving to be an excellent excuse for him to skip debating Fernando Haddad or campaigning in public ahead of Brazil’s October 28 presidential runoff. With a commanding lead in polls and a penchant for letting everybody know that he’s an asshole, Bolsonaro has nothing to gain by campaigning hard before the runoff and everything to gain by lying as low as possible. Bolsonaro and Haddad have been insulting each other on Twitter, but that may be the extent of Bolsonaro’s political activity until the vote.


Both the Guatemalan and Honduran governments seem to be taking Trump administration threats to cut aid over the latest migrant caravan seriously. Guatemalan authorities reportedly arrested the caravan organizer on Tuesday, with plans to deport him back to Honduras, and Honduran authorities are urging people not to join the caravan.


The Guatemalan government, meanwhile, is still interfering with efforts to investigate President Jimmy Morales’s (alleged, I guess) corruption:

A U.N. commission investigating corruption in Guatemala said Tuesday that President Jimmy Morales’ government has denied or revoked visas for about a dozen of its personnel including staffers probing the president, his relatives and the ruling party.

The announcement came the same day Morales survived a third attempt to lift the immunity from prosecution he enjoys as a sitting president, with congress barring a probe against him for purported illicit campaign financing from moving forward.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala said in a statement that the Foreign Ministry notified it Monday that three current visas were withdrawn, eight were denied for officials and two were denied for family members.


Finally, Alex Thurston has written a new piece for Fellow Travelers in which he reviews two recent books by former Obama administration figures Ronan Farrow and Ben Rhodes, looking for clues about how a hypothetical leftist administration could implement its foreign policy program:

Recently, there has been some compelling work done to articulate a left foreign policy vision, but there has been little corresponding work on left foreign policy implementation. If a democratic socialist won the White House, how would the left approach the nuts and bolts of foreign policy? Has anyone on the American left run a Deputies’ Committee meeting? Steered a nominee through confirmation hearings? Written talking points for a president?

After all, even a democratic socialist president elected with a large mandate might encounter suspicion and opposition not just from Congress, but also from the military and executive branch agencies – the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and even the State Department. Unlike the bipartisan foreign policy “blob,” moreover, the left’s bench of people with senior executive branch experience is thin. The left has little access to the networks that produce papers such as “Process Makes Perfect” – although the left would do well to study such reports. In short, the best foreign policy vision might falter when faced with the challenges of building effective governing coalitions within the executive branch itself.


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