World update: November 16 2018



At The Diplomat, Ario Bimo Utomo explains why it’s frustrating that the Central Asian republics can’t shake the simplistic “post-Sovet” label:

Despite such characteristics, the repeated use of “former Soviet” is both blinding and misleading as it diverts us from realizing that Central Asia is not a static region. Albeit slowly, the region has changed, particularly with regard to nation-building. Since the end of the Soviet Union, Central Asian states have dealt with the matter of crafting national identities to distinguish themselves from one another. The measures taken by each state have been different, yet they demonstrate effort on the part of Central Asian states to move away from the “former Soviet republic” imagery.


The Wilson Center’s Michael Kugelman argues that the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran is having a detrimental effect on the war in Afghanistan:

But with no prospect of improving relations with the United States, at least as long as Trump remains president, Iran has a strong incentive to increase military support to the Taliban, a persistent thorn in America’s side. The Afghan Taliban are already a beneficiary of episodic Iranian military assistance, but this surge in support could come at the very moment when Washington is making a full-bore effort to bring the insurgents to the peace table.

Backing the Taliban is a relatively cost-free way to retaliate for the canceled deal, and the covert nature of this assistance gives Tehran plausible deniability. More funding would also bolster Iran’s influence over the Taliban—a useful hedging strategy if the United States leaves Afghanistan. Additionally, it strengthens the Taliban’s capacity to target the Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State—a group opposed by both Iran and the Taliban, and with which the latter regularly clashes violently.


A roadside bomb killed at least two people in Karachi on Friday. There’s been no claim of responsibility.


So it looks like Friday was another fun day in the Sri Lankan parliament:

When they stopped throwing things at one another, legislators held a second no-confidence vote for would-be Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, which Rajapaksa lost. Again. President Maithripala Sirisena rejected the vote. Again. He insists he will not reappoint former PM Ranil Wickremesinghe to the job but also won’t suspend parliament again. Which means you may get to see more videos like this soon.


The North Koreans may be testing new weapons, but they’re also releasing captive US citizens. An American named Bruce Byron Lowrance, reportedly picked up last month attempting to cross into North Korea from China, will be released by Pyongyang in the coming days. It’s unclear why Lowrance was trying to get into North Korea, but it’s not the first time he’s been caught doing it–last year he was picked up by South Korean authorities while attempting to cross the border.



The Carnegie Endowment’s Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck argues that recent personnel moves within the Algerian military do not signal some kind of upheaval in the country’s civilian-military power balance:

The shake-ups, which seemed to have concluded in late September, ousted around a dozen senior generals and regional army commanders, including the director of defense personnel, the chief of the army’s powerful Central Security Directorate, the commander of the ground forces and the head of the air force. Five of those generals were then jailed in October, apparently on charges of corruption and other wrongdoing. Last week, Bouteflika reportedly released the five generals, according to Reuters.

Among the Algerian public and outside observers, speculation abounds about why Bouteflika made these moves and what they say about the nature of his relationship with the military. Considering the president’s poor health and the uncertainty over his succession, with presidential elections looming in April 2019, there are questions about whether the reshuffles indicate a renegotiation of civil-military relations in Algeria at a time of political and economic trouble, with Bouteflika possibly running for a fifth term next year.

Yet these questions overlook the power and popularity the military enjoys in Algeria, and how closely linked it still is to the presidency. Throughout his 19-year tenure, Bouteflika has garnered a reputation from some as the president who managed to keep the military and its security branch in check after the dark decade of the 1990s, when Algeria fought a brutal civil war against various Islamist militants after the military seized power and invalidated the 1991 elections won by an Islamist party. But that view of Bouteflika generally misses the mark, as the military and security apparatus have been stronger than ever under his presidency.


At The Intercept, journalist Amanda Sperber reports that the US is (unofficially) about to open its first diplomatic outpost in Somalia since 1991. The building, in Mogadishu’s diplomatic area, is not an embassy nor is it even a consulate, but it will likely serve the same role in a more subdued fashion.


The United Nations and the international aid community appear to be failing the CAR:

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who warned the UN peacekeeping mission is overstretched, said wider efforts to end the conflict were also failing.

“The UN effort is not succeeding, the donor effort is not succeeding and the government is in no way steering the country toward good governance,” said Egeland. “Nor are CAR’s neighbours playing the role of being good neighbours stabilising the country.”

On Thursday, the mandate for the UN’s peacekeeping mission, Minusca, was temporarily renewed for a month, following disagreements over whether it should provide support to the country’s national troops.

Aid agencies have warned that Minusca desperately needs additional resources to improve the number and quality of the mission, which has struggled to contain the crisis and faced allegations of sexual exploitation. But Minusca has struggled to persuade countries to contribute troops, while the US wants to reduce cost. Experts believe the number of troops, which currently stands at 12,000, is unlikely to rise further.

The lack of security in the country is compounding the lack of humanitarian donations, which aid agencies say have only amounted to about half of what the CAR needs this year.


At least 12 DRC soldiers were killed earlier this week in clashes with the Allied Democratic Forces in northeastern DRC, alongside the seven UN peacekeepers whose deaths had already been announced. Meanwhile, mortar shells hit a UN peacekeeping base in Beni on Friday. Presumably the ADF fired them but that hasn’t been proven yet.



The UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has issued a new report absolutely blasting the UK government for choosing to immiserate millions of people with unnecessary austerity policies:

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that levels of child poverty were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”, even though the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy.

About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty and 1.5 million are destitute, being unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the postwar social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away.

Speaking of people who are being immiserated, Theresa May could be looking at a leadership challenge from within the Conservative Party over her Brexit plan. Several more Tory MPs signaled that they would support a no-confidence vote against May, though it won’t be clear until next week whether Brexit hardliners will be able to amass enough support to make a formal challenge. So far they do not. But the more chaotic Brexit politics get the more its opponents are starting to dream about a second referendum, one that polling suggests would reverse the whole process and leave the UK in the European Union after all. It is an extreme long shot. But if May and/or her Brexit plan are defeated and a no-deal Brexit seems inevitable, a second referendum might gain support as a way out of the crisis.

Meanwhile, the rest of the EU is wondering how anybody in the UK could possibly have imagined this whole mess going any differently:

“What was always an illusion on the Brexiteer side was that the kind of world you could return to was when Britain had an empire and was a global superpower in the world economy,” said Fabian Zuleeg, the chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank with close ties to the E.U.

Those on the pro-E.U. side have argued that Brexit would make Britain weaker, since it would leave Britain with no formal ability to influence decisions in its most important export market.

“Somehow the recognition that those things were not a negotiation tactic, but that they actually are just simple statements of fact, is finally starting to sink in, but probably too late,” Zuleeg said.



Brazilian markets appear to be absolutely thrilled with their fascist president-elect. Jair Bolsonaro may be about to stomp all over civil liberties, the LGBT community, minorities, and more, but he’s also going to cut taxes, and slash spending on social programs, and privatize state-owned industries. So you have to take the bad with the…good, I guess?


The Pentagon plans to cut its current 7200 soldier deployment in Africa by 700 as it looks to refocus away from counterterrorism and back toward strategic opposition to China and Russia. The cuts will be primarily concentrated in West Africa, where the US can draw down combat forces and instead act in a support capacity for French and/or G5 combat units.


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