World roundup: February 7 2023
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Somalia, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: I need to take a short break this week, so after tonight’s roundup we will resume on Sunday. Thanks for your patience!
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
February 6, 1840: British and Māori representatives sign the Treaty of Waitangi, officially making New Zealand a British colony. The Māori were looking for British protection from France and for recognition of their own property and individual rights. However, owing to differences between the English and Māori versions of the treaty it seems Māori leaders may not have fully understood just how much they were giving up in the process. The English version ascribes substantially greater power to the British crown than is apparent in the Māori version, and you can probably guess which version British authorities treated as authoritative. Under the terms of the treaty all Māori property and rights were supposed to be protected, though it only took British colonial authorities a couple of decades to thoroughly breach that part of the arrangement.
February 6, 1981: Uganda’s National Resistance Army rebels against the government of Milton Obote following a disputed election in December. This marked the start of the most important phase of the Ugandan civil war, or Ugandan Bush War, though the conflict had begun in October 1980 with an uprising in the West Nile region. The NRA captured Kampala in January 1986, overthrowing the military government that had ousted Obote in a coup the year before. The rebels then set up a new government under their leader, Yoweri Museveni, who has been president of Uganda ever since.
February 7, 1992: The 12 member states of the European Community—Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and West Germany—sign the Maastricht Treaty, deepening European integration and helping to create the European Union. The EU now consists of 27 member states, while one of these founding dozen, the UK, has very famously quit the bloc.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The death toll from Monday’s earthquake in southwestern Turkey has as of this writing surpassed 7800 and is all but certain to rise further as rescue/recovery work continues. Most of the casualties recorded so far have been in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared disasters in ten southern provinces and a state of emergency for at least the next three months to streamline relief efforts. Nevertheless, people are already reportedly complaining about the slowness of the Turkish government’s response to the disaster, something that bears watching with the country’s general election a bit over three months away.
Nearly 2000 people are confirmed dead in Syria, where the recovery effort is hampered by the devastation and political dislocation wrought by the Syrian civil war and the resultant isolation of the Assad government. Needless to say it’s very likely the Syrian toll will escalate both as rescue workers make additional progress and due to the aftereffects of such a devastating event in a country whose basic infrastructure has been obliterated.
Israeli occupation forces killed a 17 year old Palestinian in Nablus on Tuesday in yet another of their West Bank arrest raids. That makes at least 42 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces so far this year, a pace that has a growing number of observers, including CIA Director Bill Burns, uttering the “i” word (“intifada,” to be precise). That term gets bandied about any time there’s a sustained rise in Israeli-Palestinian violence but it’s been 18 years since the Second Intifada ended and a third has yet to manifest, so I tend to take this sort of rhetoric with a grain of salt. But right now the Israelis are killing more than one Palestinian per day on average, under a government that may deliberately be trying to provoke an uprising and at the very least doesn’t care if it provokes one. Something has probably got to give.
West Papua National Liberation Army separatists have reportedly captured a New Zealand pilot named Philip Merthens, after he landed a small plane in the Nduga region on Tuesday for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. They’re demanding Papuan independence in return for his release, which seems like an overshot to me but I guess you have to reach for the stars in situations like this. Of perhaps greater concern than the fate of the pilot is the condition of his five passengers, whose status has not been mentioned by the separatists which presumably means they’re not in custody. Indonesian authorities are attempting to get to the plane but Nduga is apparently pretty remote so it’s not a simple task. The plane supposedly landed safely so the passengers should still be alive but at this point nothing is certain.
There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to put it out there even at the risk of terrifying many of you: according to US Strategic Command, China has more intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than the United States. I know, I know, first they master balloon technology and now this. Yes, it’s true that the US arsenal of both ICBMs and nuclear warheads still dwarfs China’s, but that hardly makes up for the Launcher Gap. Beijing could fill its extra missile silos up with anything—more balloons, Beanie Babies (that bubble could reinflate someday), silks and other luxury trade goods—the list is really endless and the uncertainty alone is enough to warrant at least another $100 billion or so added to the 2024 Pentagon budget. As I said above the newsletter will be off until Sunday. Assuming any of us survive that long—and at this point I’m not sure—we’ll undoubtedly continue to focus on China’s dominance in the field of having lots of places from which to fire missiles that they don’t have.
The premier of the Solomons’ Malaita province, Daniel Suidani, was ousted on Tuesday after losing a no-confidence vote in the provincial assembly. The vote was apparently unanimous, though that’s probably because Suidani’s supporters boycotted. Small protests reportedly broke out in the wake of the vote but they seem to have tapered off. The reason I mention this story at all is because Suidani was the most prominent critic of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s decision to break ties with Taiwan and diplomatically recognize Beijing back in 2019, and he’s continued to be critical of the Solomons’ intensifying relationship with China—going so far as to agitate for Malaita’s independence. The confidence vote was triggered by accusations that Suidani had misappropriated funds so at least overtly it had nothing to do with his China stance.
A new report from the United Nations Development Program finds that sub-Saharan Africa has become the “epicenter” of international terrorism, fueled by grievances that are far more local than global:
Though deaths worldwide from terrorism have declined over the past five years, attacks in sub-Saharan Africa have more than doubled since 2016, and in 2021 they comprised almost half of the global total.
The Sahel region has been particularly badly hit, with Islamic militancy fuelling acute political instability, but violent extremism has also spread or worsened in other parts of the continent, such as Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has become the new global epicentre of violent extremism with 48% of global terrorism deaths in 2021. This … threatens to reverse hard-won development gains for generations to come,” said Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator.
The report calls for greater emphasis on prevention and lists dozens of factors that make individuals less likely to be drawn into extremism, including quality education, exposure to different cultures and parental attention when young.
Militants attacked a security checkpoint near the Mauritanian border in western Mali’s Koulikoro region on Tuesday, killing two police officers and a paramilitary gendarme. Authorities attributed the attack to “suspected jihadists” and said that at least 15 of them were killed in the clash. The location is a bit south and west of the typical jihadist haunts in Mali, but those groups (especially Jamaʿat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin) have expanded their territory so much that they may be able to operate in any part of Mali at this point. Malian officials are also claiming that another 30 jihadists were killed on Monday during a security operation in the Mopti region.
Jihadist militants are also suspected of responsibility in an attack on the town of Dassa in Burkina Faso’s Centre-Ouest region on Monday. At least six people were killed and one wounded. This was the second attack on Dassa in as many weeks.
In case you missed it, Alex Thurston’s latest FX piece looks at Nigeria’s upcoming presidential election and wonders whether it’s possible for any president to overcome the country’s many structural challenges:
Yet the charge of “Green Lanternism” does have some bite to it, in the United States and Nigeria. Perhaps two modifications to the idea are needed. First, in both countries the presidency could be wielded more powerfully than it has been, but it is very unlikely that a “change candidate” will live up to the hype, whether due to their own shortcomings or due to institutional and political constraints. Second, in most elections relatively status quo candidates are likely to win. In other words, for Nigeria this year, Peter Obi is unlikely to win (the Labour Party lacks the infrastructure and elite backing typically needed to forge victory), and if he wins he’s unlikely to transform Nigeria. Indeed, none of the three leading candidates, even if they bring extraordinary energy and vision to the task of governing Nigeria, appear able to provide the “leadership” that Obasanjo and many other Nigerians crave. The presidency seems too small, despite all its power, to tackle Nigeria’s severe and growing problems.
At least 24 people were killed on Tuesday in ongoing fighting between Somaliland regional security forces and local militias near the town of Las Anod. This was the second straight day of clashes and left the total death toll approaching 60. Somaliland authorities are accusing security forces from neighboring Puntland of supporting the militias, a claim the Puntland regional government denies. Both of these regions lie largely outside the control of the federal Somali government—Somaliland declared its independence in 1991 and Puntland’s government operates with a significant degree of autonomy. It’s still unclear what triggered this violence, apart from claims that the militias do not recognize the current Somaliland government.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Protesters reportedly attacked a UN peacekeeping convoy in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province on Tuesday, sparking a confrontation in which those peacekeepers killed at least three and possibly five of the protesters. A growing number of people in North Kivu are angry at the peacekeeping mission’s inability, or unwillingness, to use force against the the M23 militia since that group reemerged as a serious threat in November 2021. There’s a certain amount of grim irony that the UN force has showed more aggression against its detractors than it has against M23.
The Ukrainian military claimed on Tuesday to have killed more than 1000 Russian soldiers over the previous 24 hours, an unconfirmable assertion that, if true, would make it the deadliest single day of the war for the Russians. The casualties come amid signs that the Russian military is still gearing up for a major new offensive in the next couple of weeks, possibly targeting either Kharkiv oblast in northeastern Ukraine or Zaporizhzhia oblast in southern Ukraine. Or, hey, maybe both. Last year’s partial mobilization has probably given Moscow enough bodies to sustain a couple of operations if they choose to go that route.
The Ukrainians are by contrast stuck in limbo at the moment. They may be able to attempt a new offensive of their own once all the Western tanks they’ve been promised are in place but realistically that’s months away. In an effort to hold them over the Danish, Dutch, and German governments have now pledged a supply of refurbished German-made Leopard 1 tanks, which are considerably older and less advanced than the Leopard 2s that are supposed to be on their way but are still probably as good or better than what the Ukrainians currently have. The Leopard 1s could arrive a bit more quickly but that’s still a matter of months, not weeks.
Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso saw one of his big plans laid low on Sunday when voters rejected a plan to extradite certain categories of suspected criminals in a referendum. Lasso had viewed the extradition plan, which would have applied to people arrested on drug and weapons charges, as a way to bolster his government’s “War on Drugs.” In general the unpopular (approval ratings in the 20s in most polls) Lasso had a bad night. Voters rejected two other referendum proposals and elected leftists to the mayoralties of Ecuador’s two largest cities, Guayaquil and Quito.
A new report from the research group NatureServe suggests that a disturbingly high percentage of animal and plant species in the United States are in danger of extinction:
Finally, with John Durham’s investigation into the “Russiagate” affair suddenly coming under scrutiny, Responsible Statecraft’s Elizabeth Beavers argues that another of his investigations also warrants a second look:
Is it time for an investigation of an investigation of an investigation? The original investigation led by Robert Mueller into Donald Trump and Russia led to an investigation of that investigation led by special counsel John Durham. Now reporting reveals that Durham’s inquiry was mired with ethical disputes and potential misconduct, and lawmakers are accordingly demanding another layer of investigation, this time into the Durham review itself.
But despite the confusing and sprawling mass of investigations, it is still not enough. There is yet another Durham review in urgent need of investigation.
In 2009, during the Obama administration, then-Attorney General Eric Holder appointed then-U.S. attorney John Durham — the same John Durham who investigated the Russia investigation — to conduct a review of the Bush administration’s use of torture as part of the so-called “War on Terror.” That review concluded with no criminal charges or even full criminal investigations, and no public report of the findings.
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