World roundup: July 14 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Sri Lanka, Italy, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
July 13, 1878: The Treaty of Berlin (temporarily) settles the “Great Eastern Crisis” over Russia’s threat to the Ottoman Empire. The treaty superseded the earlier Treaty of San Stefano, which ended the 1877-1878 war between Russia and the Ottomans but was so lopsided in Russia’s favor that Britain and France felt compelled to step in and quash it. The Berlin do-over recognized the independent states of Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia and an autonomous (effectively independent) Bulgaria. It shrunk Bulgaria down from the size envisioned under San Stefano and forced the Russians to return some territory to the Ottomans. Austria-Hungary was allowed to effectively annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, which it formally annexed in 1908.
July 13, 1977: The Somali National Army, working with a rebel group called the Western Somali Liberation Front, invades Ethiopia, beginning the Ogaden War. Basically the Somalis thought they could take advantage of a moment of internal weakness in Ethiopia to seize the predominantly Somali Ogaden. As both countries were Soviet clients at the time, Moscow had a decision to make, and it chose Ethiopia. With Soviet aid and Cuban reinforcements, the Ethiopians turned the tide and pushed the SNA back into Somalia by March 1978. Somalia then shifted its Cold War allegiance to the United States.
July 14, 1789: A crowd of Parisians, having been out in the streets demonstrating for two days over King Louis XVI’s sacking of finance minister Jacques Necker, attacks the Bastille to seize the arms and ammunition stored inside. The Bastille was mostly used at this point as an armory, but its reputation as a political prison also made it a potent symbol of royal excess. The “Storming of the Bastille” is generally regarded as the event that triggered the French Revolution, as the insurrection then spread from Paris throughout the country.
July 14, 1958: The 14 July Revolution
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
In its annual “Children and Armed Conflict” report, the United Nations finds that Syria led the world in the recruitment and use of child soldiers in 2021. All told, 1296 children were recruited by various Syrian factions last year, with the largest share (569) being recruited by militias under the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army umbrella. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (380) and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (221) also recruited large numbers of child fighters. The report notes that both the SNA and SDP have made some progress in reducing child recruitment and demobilizing child soldiers already in their ranks, but clearly they haven’t made that much progress.
Joe Biden spent his second day in the Middle East continuing to meet with Israeli leaders. The day’s big news involved something that people are apparently going to call the “I2U2,” because I guess nobody has any money left to hire a PR firm. This new Gang includes India and Israel (the “I2”) and the United States and United Arab Emirates (you guessed it, the “U2”). I have no idea if Bono and The Edge are going to be involved in any way. In a phone call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced a couple of joint investment initiatives to kick start the new arrangement, focusing on funneling money to projects in India.
As for what the I2U2 really is, there are a couple of goals it’s trying to achieve. For Israel and the UAE this is pretty plainly another anti-Iran arrangement that ties the US more closely to the region and brings India, a country that has a fairly decent relationship with Iran at present, on board. For the US, Iran is certainly part of the picture but I suspect the intent is to piggyback on anti-Iran sentiment to create another version of the Quad—i.e., a regional anti-China club. Whether the other three members are going to go along with that agenda remains to be seen.
Biden and Lapid also signed something called the “Jerusalem Declaration,” which basically affirms that the US will continue to indulge the Israeli government in perpetuity, as though that were in any doubt. Substantively the declaration mentions preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and hand waves at the “two-state solution” for ending the Israel-Palestine conflict. Based on their remarks following the signing, Lapid and Biden disagree a bit on the Iran issue—Biden still insists he wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear file diplomatically (all evidence to the contrary) while Lapid seems like he’s ready to move on to airstrikes. Biden will make a short visit to Ramallah on Friday to further flog the two-state solution’s corpse in front of Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will then head on to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation announced late Thursday that it will open the kingdom’s airspace to all carriers that meet its basic standards for overflight. This is meant in part to increase the kingdom’s status as an air hub, but it’s also a clear gesture to Israel and comes as Israeli officials have reportedly cleared the way for Egypt to transfer the Red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran to Saudi control. The Biden administration will no doubt take credit for helping to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia closer together when assessing the outcome of Biden’s trip.
The Pakistani government has reportedly closed a deal with the International Monetary Fund that could unlock a previously frozen bailout program and deliver a cool $1.17 billion to Islamabad. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has been in talks with the IMF on this issue since succeeding Imran Khan back in April, though he’s been hesitant with respect to implementing the Fund’s usual austerity program because of the political backlash that might bring. It would appear that a rapid reduction in Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves prompted Sharif to rethink his stance. The IMF may make additional bailout funds available to Pakistan, but it’s demanding higher taxes and cuts to spending in return.
Former, or at least soon to be former, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has finally submitted his formal resignation letter and it will reportedly become official as of Friday morning. Rajapaksa waited until he’d fled the country and made it to Singapore before resigning and thereby surrendering his legal immunity. Rajapaksa’s flight on Wednesday left Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president and sent a jolt of anger through the protesters who have demanded the removal of both men from office, but things appeared to calm down a bit on Thursday with the news of Rajapaksa’s resignation. Demonstrators even evacuated the presidential and prime ministerial residences in Colombo, which they’d occupied since Saturday.
SupChina’s Joe Webster reports on indications of tension in the Russian-Chinese relationship:
Five days after Russian counterintelligence authorities publicized the arrests of a Chinese spy ring, the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers met at the G20 in Bali, Indonesia. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Under the strategic guidance of the two heads of state, China and Russia have thwarted disturbances, maintained normal exchanges, and pushed forward cooperation in various fields in an orderly manner, showing the strong resilience and strategic determination in bilateral ties.”
While it’s not clear what “thwarted disturbances” (排除干扰 páichú gānrǎo) alludes to, the phrase is striking: Beijing does not appear to have used it before in the context of China-Russia relations, although the PRC has used similar phrases in other bilateral contexts.
The same Russian court that earlier this month ordered the Caspian Pipeline Consortium to suspend operations, potentially blocking most of Kazakhstan’s oil output from reaching the market, has reversed course and decided to simply fine the CPC instead. Webster suggests this change may have been made at Beijing’s behest, both to keep global oil prices under control and to protect Chinese business interests in Kazakhstan.
Libyan Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh’s Tripoli-based government appointed a new chairperson to head Libya’s National Oil Corporation on Thursday. The new chair, former central bank governor Farhat Bengdara, was apparently installed at NOC headquarters in Tripoli after his appointment, possibly by force though that’s not entirely clear. There’s just one tiny problem, which is that the previous chair, Mustafa Sanalla, hasn’t accepted his sacking. And he’s being backed up by both of Libya’s legislatures, including the one that’s usually aligned with Dbeibeh. Control of Libya’s oil sector could be crucial to determining control of the country, and it’s potentially lucrative enough to serve as a casus belli should these dueling governments decide they’d like to restart the Libyan civil war.
The Malian government has ordered a halt to all military rotations related to the UN’s peacekeeping operation, on “national security” grounds. Authorities arrested 49 soldiers from the Ivory Coast earlier this week, claiming that they’d deployed “illegally” and were “mercenaries” though by most accounts they were there in support of the UN mission. In announcing the suspension, the Malian Foreign Ministry suggested that it would resume these rotations after ironing out some logistical issues.
That mysterious explosion that killed seven teenagers in northern Togo over the weekend was apparently the result of an airstrike. The Togolese military admitted as much on Thursday, saying that its personnel had identified the teens as a group of jihadist militants during a nighttime patrol. Security forces were apparently on alert due to intelligence suggesting that jihadist fighters were planning attacks in northern Togo.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Wednesday told the parents of Somali soldiers who have been in Eritrea and possibly Ethiopia for the past several months that those soldiers will be returning to Somalia, though he didn’t offer any sort of deadline for that return. Last June a UN rapporteur claimed that these soldiers, ostensibly in Eritrea on a training mission, had been deployed to northern Ethiopia as part of the Eritrean military’s operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Mohamud, at the time a mere opposition member of parliament, was among a number of MPs who demanded answers from then-President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. None have been forthcoming, and to date it’s still unclear whether these soldiers actually deployed to Ethiopia or not.
With a deal possibly on the horizon that would allow Ukraine to resume shipping grain to market, the Biden administration is reportedly issuing new written guidance clarifying that banks, shipping firms, and insurance companies will not be blacklisted for facilitating transactions involving Russian food and fertilizer products. The goal is to reassure Western firms that have stopped supporting such transactions out of fear that they might cross some sanctions red line. Bringing Russian and Ukrainian food exports back online could have a substantial impact on global food supplies and therefore prices. Moscow has for some time now insisted that it would be happy to resume food exports but that Western sanctions had made it impossible to do so.
A Russian cruise missile attack reportedly killed at least 23 people in the western Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia on Thursday. That’s well away from the front line of the conflict and it’s unclear what the Russians might have been targeting—Ukrainian officials say the strike hit a residential area, while there’s been no comment from the Russians. According to the Ukrainians at least 66 people were hospitalized due to the attack and 39 are still believed to be missing.
Bulgaria got a little closer to a snap election on Thursday when the conservative GERB party refused its turn to try to form a government in the wake of the no-confidence vote that brought down the country’s previous government last month. GERB had second crack at the task after the We Continue the Change party failed to form a coalition earlier this month. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev plans to consult with party leaders before offering the mandate to a third party, which is also likely to fail. That third failure will trigger an automatic snap election.
The Italian government stepped back a bit from the snap election brink on Thursday, after Prime Minister Mario Draghi attempted to resign only to have that resignation rejected by President Sergio Mattarella. As expected, the Five Star Movement boycotted a parliamentary confidence vote on Thursday in the Italian Senate. Draghi’s government won that vote handily, but Draghi, as he had promised, tendered his resignation nonetheless. Mattarella then refused to accept it and urged Draghi to return to parliament next week to assess whether he still has enough support to put together a majority coalition. That may be easier said than done, as he’s already presumably lost Five Star and at least one other member of Draghi’s current coalition, the right wing League party, is now calling for a snap election. But if Draghi can cobble together majority support, even if it’s just for a caretaker government to see Italy through its general election in early 2023, it’s likely Mattarella will ask him to stay on as PM.
Rishi Sunak won the second round of intra-Conservative Party voting to replace Boris Johnson on Thursday, taking 101 votes to finish ahead of Minister of State for Trade Policy Penny Mordaunt at 83 votes. One candidate was whittled out of the field, which now includes five contenders. Despite two straight second place finishes, Mordaunt is emerging as the favorite to win the leadership election. Polling suggests that she’ll win any head to head matchup in the final round of voting, when the party’s full membership gets to have its say, and her biggest drawback—she’s never served in a senior cabinet position—may also be her biggest advantage—she’s not tarred with having served at a high level in Johnson’s cabinet.
A new study from the US Office of National Drug Control Policy finds that Colombia produced 972 tons of cocaine in 2021, down only a hair from record levels (994 tons) in 2020. In all some 234,000 hectares of Colombian land were devoted to coca production last year, which again is down only slightly from the 245,000 hectares used for that purpose the previous year. These findings could set up a showdown between Washington and Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro, who has promised to focus on development rather than eradication as a means toward reducing cocaine production. Even though this data manifestly shows that eradication isn’t working, the War on Drugs wouldn’t be the monstrosity it is if US policymakers were actually interested in data.
Protests over fuel shortages continued in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, even as the cause of those shortages—the closure of the Varreux fuel terminal—seemed to be abating. Fighting between the rival G9 and G-Pep gangs in the city’s Cité Soleil neighborhood seemed to be waning on Thursday, enough at least that two fuel tankers that had been stranded at Varreux were able to offload their cargo and transport trucks that had been prevented from taking on fuel at the terminal were able to resume regular operations. At least 89 people have been killed in several days of gang violence and thousands are believed trapped in the combat zone without access to food and water.
The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a National Defense Authorization Act that would raise next year’s Pentagon budget to $810 billion, a full $37 billion more than the Biden administration had requested. The House NDAA is likely to run into trouble in the Senate, however, as that body has already marked its version of the NDAA up a full $45 billion over what the administration wanted. I’d ask how they’re going to pay for that, but as we all know the military budget is uniquely exempt from such petty considerations.
Finally, writing for Foreign Affairs, Yale University’s Gregory Brew argues that it’s time for the US government to intervene in the global energy market and, ultimately, to get out of the fossil fuel business altogether:
Oil is a volatile commodity. Even under ideal conditions, the price of crude changes by the minute, driven by any number of causes, such as shifts in national oil inventories and military coups in oil-producing states. Still, since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the global economy has generally managed this volatility. Oil is a crucial resource, and global economic interdependence has meant that meant that producers and consumers have typically shared the costs of sudden price changes. Through the early years of this century, as demand steadily rose, production increased to meet it.
Within the last decade, however, the volatility of the oil market has grown untenable. As the COVID-19 pandemic ruptured an already battered industry, governments and firms faced shortfalls in supply and uncertainty over future demand. Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine pushed this volatility to an unacceptable level. Amid a radical disruption of Russian energy exports, prices skyrocketed—fueling the worst bout of global inflation since the 1970s. Alongside the challenges of a transition to renewable energy and a post–COVID-19 economic recovery, energy markets are now in constant flux.
This unstable situation should shake Washington from its longstanding complacency. For too long, the United States has failed to regulate its domestic oil industry or take effective measures to manage the global market. To handle future shocks and mitigate the threat of climate change, policymakers in the United States and its allied capitals must do much more to stabilize prices and facilitate a long-term shift away from fossil fuels. Oil has been out of control for too long. It’s time to set some new rules.
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