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World roundup: December 1 2022
Stories from Lebanon, Ethiopia, Spain, and elsewhere
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Also, anyone who read yesterday’s roundup would have learned that I am under the weather. I am feeling better today but still not back to 100 percent, so we will forego the usual voiceover again tonight and this roundup will be out a bit earlier than usual.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 30, 1853: The Battle of Sinop
November 30, 1947: Palestinian gunmen attack several buses carrying Jewish passengers across Mandatory Palestine. The attack was a response to the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of its partition plan for Palestine the day before and began a five and a half month long period of paramilitary clashes and terrorist attacks between Jews and Arabs, essentially a “civil war” within the British colony. That conflict “ended,” along with the UK’s mandate, in May 1948, when Arab League forces invaded Israel-Palestine and the civil conflict became the Arab-Israeli War.
December 1, 1640: Portuguese nobles declare John (João) IV (d. 1656) their new king. This is significant in that it meant they were declaring an end to the 60 year old Iberian Union, rejecting the rule of Spanish King Philip IV (d. 1665). The 1640-1668 Portuguese Restoration War ensued, which—as any present day map of Europe will confirm—ended with a Portuguese victory and confirmation of the new monarchy.
December 1, 1918: The “South Slavic” (Slovenian and Croatian) parts of Austria-Hungary are united with Serbia and Montenegro as the “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.” This name was changed in 1929 to the “Kingdom of Yugoslavia” and again after World War II to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This experiment in nation building broke apart—quite violently, in case you missed it—in the 1990s.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Lebanese parliament tried and failed for the eighth time to elect a new president on Thursday. As in the previous attempts, legislator Michel Moawad “led” the race with 37 votes, nowhere near enough. It’s been over a month now since former President Michel Aoun left office and more than six months since Lebanese voters elected a new parliament, but with the legislature gridlocked there’s been no movement toward either electing a president or confirming a new cabinet. This would be problematic under normal circumstances, but given Lebanon’s ongoing economic collapse it’s catastrophic. Lebanon’s ability to access international aid and financing depends on having a government in place that can enact the types of reforms Western governments and institutions are demanding.
Elsewhere, the US Treasury Department blacklisted three individuals and two entities accused of supporting Hezbollah. Two of the individuals and both entities are linked to Hezbollah’s fund-raising activities while the third individual is accused of helping to procure arms for the group.
Israeli forces killed two Palestinian militants during an arrest raid in the West Bank city of Jenin on Thursday. One of the two was identified as a member of al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the armed wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Fatah Party, while the other was apparently affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Benjamin Netanyahu took a major step toward finalizing what will be the most right-wing government in Israeli history on Thursday, completing coalition talks with the Religious Zionism party led by Bezalel Smotrich. Under the deal, Smotrich will serve as Netanyahu’s initial finance minister, though he’ll be rotated out of that post at some point down the road. This means he will not serve as defense minister, which is a scenario the US government had reportedly warned Netanyahu against.
The leader of Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government, Duwa Lashi La, told Reuters on Thursday that more than 2000 anti-junta fighters have been killed in clashes with security forces since Myanmar’s February 2021 coup. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners NGO says that another 2500 civilians have been killed since the coup, most in protests against the junta. Duwa Lashi La and other opposition leaders have been appealing for Western aid akin to what the Ukrainian government has been receiving, to no apparent effect.
Chinese cities are reportedly continuing to relax their “Zero-COVID” restrictions in an effort to respond to recent protests over the policy’s lockdown measures. In Beijing, for example, there are reports that people who test positive for COVID are being allowed to shelter at home instead of in official quarantine centers. According to the AP there were no signs of new protests on Thursday, and while they could resume at some point that would seem to indicate that a combination of increased police activity and the easing of those restrictions has tamped down discontent.
The US government on Thursday blacklisted three North Korean officials in connection with last month’s apparent test of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile. The Hwasong-17 is North Korea’s longest-range missile, capable of reaching any target in the continental United States if it works as intended. Unless any of them have assets in the United States the effect of these new sanctions is unlikely to be anything more than symbolic.
The Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front have begun a new round of talks focused on the TPLF’s disarmament. The peace deal the previously warring parties signed last month established a 30 day deadline for that disarmament, but given that the deadline is, uh, tomorrow I don’t think they’re going to make it. The TPLF has resisted disarming until Ethiopian authorities see to the withdrawal of the Eritrean military and Amhara regional security forces from the Tigray region. There is at this point no indication that either is actually withdrawing.
Somali officials claimed on Thursday that their forces have killed some 40 al-Shabab members in overnight fighting in Hirshabelle state. Local militias in Hirshabelle have been battling al-Shabab for weeks with the support of the Somali military.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
There are reports of new fighting between the Congolese military and the M23 militia in North Kivu province, potentially upending the ceasefire agreement that took hold last week. This does not appear to be light skirmishing, as Congolese military sources are reporting the use of heavy weaponry and there are indications that M23 fighters are advancing on the town of Kibirizi. Congolese officials are also accusing M23 of carrying out a massacre earlier this week in the town of Kishishe in which some 50 civilians were killed. Several third parties, including Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, say they’re also aware of some sort of attack on civilians.
In news from Ukraine:
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told reporters on Thursday that somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed over the course of the Russian invasion. Last month, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley estimated that the Russian and Ukrainian militaries have each suffered around 100,000 casualties since the war began, which would be consistent with Podolyak’s stated death toll, but I’m pretty sure Milley was guessing and I’m not sure how much stock I’d put in casualty figures from the Ukrainian government.
In a virtual news conference on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov characterized NATO as “directly participating” in the Ukraine war, which is difficult to deny at this point. Lavrov went on to justify Russia’s ongoing bombardment of Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure, which arguably crosses into “war crime” territory, as necessary (from Russia’s perspective) to try to limit the flow of Western arms to the Ukrainian military.
The Russian and Ukrainian governments conducted another prisoner exchange on Thursday. Each side released 50 POWs.
Yesterday we mentioned that two institutions in Spain—the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid and the offices of an arms manufacturer in Zaragoza—had received letter bombs. That number is now up to six institutions, including the US embassy and the Spanish Defense Ministry. Spanish authorities have also revealed that a letter bomb addressed to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was received and disarmed by authorities last week. Despite earlier indications that the packages had been sent from Ukraine, Spanish authorities now seem to believe that they’ve all been sent from inside Spain. Apart from an injury to one employee of the Ukrainian embassy none of them seem to have caused any casualties. Three other Ukrainian diplomatic missions have reportedly received “threatening,” albeit non-explosive, letters, but there’s no indication that those incidents are connected to what’s going on in Spain.
The United Nations’ International Court of Justice on Thursday addressed a dispute between the Bolivian and Chilean governments over water rights on the Silala River and concluded that there’s really not much for it to do. The Chilean government brought suit against Bolivia back in 2016 for blocking water flow on the river, which the Bolivians claimed wasn’t actually a river at all, but since then they’ve apparently reached an accord on the river’s status. All that’s left, then, is for both countries to collaborate on the river’s use, in accordance with the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Both governments seemed pleased with the outcome, or at least that their grievances have been resolved.
Finally, Inkstick’s William Hartung takes issue with a recent Atlantic piece that tried to make the case for more interventionism in US foreign policy:
In an essay for the December 2022 issue of The Atlantic, George Packer proposes a new theory of American power that reads much like the Biden administration’s declared approach of defending democracies over autocracies.
But as any even minimally close observer of the Biden policy can see, not all autocracies are created equal. For example, the administration rightly supports Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against the Russian invasion of that country. Still, it greatly exaggerates the security challenge posed by China, as Michael Swaine has made clear in a June 2022 paper on threat inflation and the Chinese military. On the other hand, allied repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt are given US arms and support on the theory that they will be useful partners in a world of great power competition. In reality, uncritically supporting these “exceptional autocracies” serves neither US interests nor the interests of the people inside these autocracies.
Packer’s theory might entail looser ties with these kinds of regimes — in short, a more consistent application of the “democracy versus autocracy” frame — but that is not clear from his essay. What is clear from Packer’s piece is that he has a wildly distorted view of the current US role in the world.
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