World update: October 19 2018



Afghans will vote in their parliamentary election on Saturday under threat of violence from both the Taliban and ISIS. It very much remains to be seen how much the risk of violence will tamp down turnout, but in the lead up to the election nine candidates were assassinated and hundreds of people killed or wounded in attacks on political targets. Over 2000 polling places will be shut down on Saturday due to security concerns, including all of the polling sites in Kandahar province. Authorities have decided to delay the vote there by one week in the wake of the Taliban’s assassination of provincial warlord/police chief Abdul Raziq on Thursday.


China’s GDP growth fell to 6.5 percent in the third quarter of 2018, the lowest it’s been since 2009. Trade War and austerity are probably to blame. The figure is still in line with Chinese predictions at the beginning of the year, but still the news of the slowdown has caused the yuan to lose value and has rattled markets in Asia.


Good news! Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are probably going to get together sometime early next year! Good for them.


US and South Korean officials have decided to postpone air defense drills that were supposed to happen in December, in order to bolster diplomacy with Pyongyang.



Cameroon’s Supreme Court on Friday rejected the last few petitions filed by presidential candidates asking it to throw out the results of the country’s October 7 election. Incumbent Paul Biya, whose administration dates back to the Late Bronze Age according to the most recent archeological analyses, will almost certainly win another term once the results are announced (which is supposed to happen by Monday).


The Russian government announced on Friday that it’s sending another 60 military trainers and additional hardware to the CAR under the military cooperation deal the two countries have. The Russian foreign ministry also called out the “jealousy” of countries that have raised concerns about its role in the CAR, calling those concerns “counterproductive, particularly in the current context.”


The Comoran government and local officials on Anjouan island have reportedly reached an agreement that should end days of violent protest and government crackdown on the island. The agreement seems to involve a general amnesty for protesters and a restoration of water and power service to the island’s capital, Mutsamudu. It does not appear that anything has been done to address the underlying problem, the political changes being implemented by Comoran President Azali Assoumani that many Anjouan residents believe will effectively disenfranchise their island.


Mandatory military service is making a comeback, baby. Hell yeah:

For many young Europeans, a post-high-school “gap year” has become a rite of passage. Instead of proceeding straight to work or college, hundreds of thousands of newly graduated high school students enjoy a year of travel to see the world and celebrate their newfound freedom.

But a growing number of those young men and women face a much different post-graduation interlude: military service.

After the Cold War, many European countries abolished conscription, considering it an expensive relic. But with Russia resurgent and tensions on the rise, mandatory military service is making a comeback across the continent. This year, Sweden drafted its first new class of conscripts since abolishing the draft in 2010. Lithuania has also reinstated conscription, and Norway began drafting women for the first time in 2016.


Not to be Debbie Downer here, but all these new European foot soldiers aren’t going to mean much if Russia and the United States start firing nukes at one another. On Friday, the Trump administration took an important step toward making that a reality by deciding to tear up an important Cold War treaty:

The Trump administration is planning to tell Russian leaders next week that it is preparing to exit the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, according to American officials and foreign diplomats.

President Trump has been moving toward leaving the three-decade-old treaty because Russia has been violating it for years and because it is constraining the United States from deploying new weapons to counter the growing arsenal of intermediate-range weapons that China has deployed in seeking greater influence in the Western Pacific.

The White House said that no official decision had been made to leave the treaty, known as I.N.F., which was signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and was considered a critical step in defusing Cold War tensions. In the coming weeks, Mr. Trump is expected to sign off on the decision, which would mark the first time he has scrapped a major arms control treaty.

It’s more the precedent that worries me here than the loss of the INF Treaty itself. Trump has shown he has no issue with simply ripping up treaties he doesn’t like–which appears to be most of them–but as the piece notes this is his first foray into nuclear power arms control territory. Russia has been violating the treaty, but it’s also signaled an interest in renegotiating it, and if the issue were really Russian violations then you’d think the first step would be to try talking with them. Pulling out sends a signal that what this administration really wants to do is unshackle the US nuclear arsenal. The fact that this idea was apparently heavily pushed by John Bolton, who is also trying to sink plans for other arms control talks with Russia, is also inherently a bad sign.


The European Court of Justice has ordered the Polish government to cease implementation of a law that lowers the mandatory retirement age for judges in an effort to clear unfriendly judges out of the system more quickly. Polish officials, some of whom had talked about openly defying the court if it ruled this way, are now saying that they plan to abide by European law but cannot reverse the retirement age change. Soooo, they’re going to just keep on keeping on, I guess. The ECJ hasn’t actually ruled on whether the Polish law violates European law–this was more or less a temporary injunction.


Somewhat improbably, the North (?) Macedonian parliament voted on Friday to go forward with changing the country’s name to appease Greece. Two-thirds of Macedonian legislators (80 of 120) voted in favor of beginning the process of amending the country’s constitution, though this was not the last vote they’ll take on this issue so it’s hardly a done deal yet. But this initial vote was seen as a big hurdle for the pro-change side to clear.


A story that’s being lost in the hand-wringing about the rise of the authoritarian right across Europe is the fact that the left is getting stronger as well, at least if you take a look at how the continent’s Green parties are faring lately:

Elections in three European countries last weekend suggest that as the continent’s historic mainstream parties plummet in the polls and struggle to see off the far right’s challenge, for liberal-minded voters the Greens are looking like an answer.

Offering a pro-EU stance, a humane approach to migration and clear positions on existential issues such as climate change, biodiversity and sustainability, Green parties in several countries are now polling higher nationally than the traditional centre-left.

“They represent a clear place where people can go who are frustrated with the traditional mainstream parties but who don’t like the far right,” said Alexander Clarkson, a lecturer in European studies at King’s College London.

“They offer a very clear counter-model to the positions and arguments of parties like Germany’s AfD. Also they’ve been around for a while now, more than 40 years, and they’ve governed responsibly both locally and regionally. They kind of look like the adults in the room.”


In a story I’ve talked about here from time to time, French officials say that the “Special Purpose Vehicle” that European governments are trying to create to finance and protect commerce with Iran from US sanctions is going to have a broader mandate than just Iran:

Until now, the SPV appeared to focus solely on Iran. But in a reply to Reuters, the French foreign ministry said the idea was for the SPV to go beyond Iran and cover a wider range of EU trade.

“The ongoing work on the special purpose vehicle should facilitate financial transactions for companies wishing to maintain trade relations with Iran, in accordance with European law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von der Muhll said.

“It aims to create an economic sovereignty tool for the European Union beyond this one case. It is therefore a long-term plan that will protect European companies in the future from the effect of illegal extraterritorial sanctions.”

This SPV could be a small step toward a serious decline in US financial hegemony around the world if it comes together as the Europeans are envisioning.


According to Bloomberg, Theresa May appears ready to punt on yet another of her red lines, the insistence that any “backstop” arrangement for Northern Ireland that leaves it and/or the rest of the UK under European Union rules and regulations must be time-limited. The only solution to the Irish border problem after Brexit is either reimposing a hard border or keeping NI and/or the entire UK under EU rules so that there’s no reason to reimpose a hard border. Of course, that’s also not Brexit, and in fact it’s pretty much the opposite of Brexit since it would leave the UK in the EU effectively, but with no more say on its governance. That’s why May has been insisting that any outcome like that must have a defined end point. But the EU has disagreed and May is apparently caving in the hopes that it will shake up negotiations and get them progressing again. I’m sure the prospect of indefinite EU indentured servitude will go extremely well with the hardliners in the Conservative Party.



The Washington Post’s Ishan Tharoor lays out the environmental case against likely next Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro:

In speeches, Bolsonaro has declared that, like President Trump, he would pull his country out of the Paris climate accords. Courting the support of the powerful agribusiness lobby, Bolsonaro has railed against the country’s “excessive” policing of its rural areas and forests. He floated the idea of combining the country’s agriculture and environment ministries, which critics worry would enfeeble environmental protections. And he has long supported opening up indigenous areas, currently protected by the government, to agricultural and commercial use.

“Environmentalists fear that a Bolsonaro presidency will signal open season in the Amazon for illegal loggers, miners and crooked ranchers in Brazil, home to 60 per cent of the world’s largest rainforest,” noted the Financial Times.

“I think we are headed for a very dark period in the history of Brazil,” said Paulo Artaxo, a climate-change researcher at the University of Sao Paulo, to Science magazine. “There is no point sugarcoating it. Bolsonaro is the worst thing that could happen for the environment.”


The Central American migrant caravan met a fence and police on the Mexican border on Thursday, and then this happened:

Police used tear gas and other measures to force many migrants back into the no man’s land along the border. Some looked for ways around the cops and others appeared to turn back toward Guatemala but at this point it’s unclear where things stand. Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said he will offer work visas to Central American migrants once he takes office in December, but in the meantime the governments in the region are taking massive pressure from the Trump administration not to let this caravan reach the US border.


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