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World roundup: June 4-5 2022
Stories from Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Nigeria, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 3, 1940: World War II’s Battle of Dunkirk ends with the last British soldiers evacuating that city and leaving the Nazis victorious. At Winston Churchill’s order, the Royal Navy returned to Dunkirk the following day to evacuate roughly 26,000 French soldiers, so the full evacuation wasn’t completed until June 4. In all the British military (aided by dozens of small civilian vessels) evacuated 338,226 soldiers from Dunkirk, along with another roughly 192,000 evacuated from other parts of France over the ensuing three weeks. The Nazis rolled into Paris on June 14, completing their conquest of France. Britain left a considerable quantity of materiel behind but the successful rescue of most of the personnel who were trapped at Dunkirk prevented a major defeat from reaching catastrophic levels.
June 4, 1615: The army of the Tokugawa Shogunate captures Osaka, ending a siege that had begun the previous month. This was the second Tokugawa siege of Osaka in less than a year—the initial incident, which lasted from November 1614 to January 1615, had ended with a peace agreement that quickly collapsed. With its capture of Osaka, the Tokugawa clan was able to force the disbanding of the Toyotomi clan, the last serious obstacle to full Tokugawa control over Japan.
June 5, 1963: In what’s become known as the 15 Khordad Movement (because it took place on the 15th day of the Iranian month of Khordad), protests and riots break out in cities across Iran after the arrest of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini over his criticisms of the Iranian government. The previously little-known Khomeini emerged suddenly on the public stage months earlier when he angrily denounced Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s “White Revolution” reforms as contrary to Islam. The outpouring of anger over his arrest cemented him as a leading opposition figure, a status he carried with him into exile and all the way through the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
June 5, 1967: The Six Day War begins.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere last month than at any point in the past 4 million years. The record level, 421 parts per million, is some 50 percent higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels and comes after humans released a record 36.3 billion tons of CO₂ into the atmosphere in 2021. So…we did it? We broke the record? Congratulations to us? Look, I know this seems bad, but we don’t know what things were like on Earth, say, 5 million years ago. Maybe atmospheric CO₂ levels were really high then too and it was nice. Anyway, I think more research is necessary before we do anything drastic like switching to renewables or taking the bus every once in a while.
According to the United Nations, Yemeni government and rebel delegations have resumed negotiations in Jordan over easing the rebel siege of the city of Taiz. That’s the biggest unfulfilled component of April’s ceasefire, which the parties agreed to extend for at least another two months on Thursday. Resolving that issue could pave the way for more substantive peace talks over the ceasefire’s next two months. Rebel-controlled media claimed on Saturday evening that roads to and from Taiz were in the process of being reopened, but I haven’t seen any confirmation of that as yet.
The Israeli government has reportedly invited a British natural gas production vessel to set up shop in a part of the eastern Mediterranean that it considers part of Israel’s maritime economic zone. There’s just one teeny problem, which is that the Lebanese government claims the same area and is clearly displeased that the Israelis have moved forward on this project without first settling the issue of their maritime border. Israel and Lebanon disagree on the angle at which their land border should extend into the Mediterranean, and that disagreement impacts their ability to explore for offshore resource deposits.
Joe Biden’s rumored trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, which was reportedly set to take place later this month at the end of a trip through Europe, has now been called off according to multiple media outlets. Instead, the Biden administration is now putting together a bespoke Middle East trip sometime next month that would follow the same itinerary, but with the Saudi leg coinciding with a Gulf Cooperation Council summit. The reason for the apparent change is unclear, but it’s possible the administration is hoping that the GCC summit draws attention away from Biden’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In the meantime, two Saudi cabinet ministers are planning to visit the US in separate trips this month. That should be enough to keep advancing the bilateral rapprochement, for better or worse.
Kazakh voters headed to the polls on Sunday to decide on a package of constitutional changes supported by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The reforms, if adopted, will devolve some presidential authority to parliament and other institutions and could lead to more diverse parties in the legislature, but for Tokayev the big upside is presumably the fact that they’d also strip former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev of his status as “Leader of the Nation.” Tokayev has been pushing to reduce Nazarbayev’s remaining power since protests in January turned into a national uprising. Turnout appears to be high and the referendum seems likely to pass.
There’s apparently been another outbreak of violence along the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border in the Vorukh region, which is a Tajik exclave completely separated from the rest of the country and surrounded by Kyrgyz territory. According to the Tajik Foreign Ministry, Kyrgyz forces crossed the border near Vorukh and then engaged in a firefight with Tajik border security when told to scram. There’s no indication of any casualties. Clashes like this are a somewhat regular occurrence, owing to the peculiarity of the exclave and to poorly delineated regional boundaries in general.
The Pakistani military says its forces killed at least seven unspecified militants in two clashes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday. One of these involved a security raid on a militant “hideout” in the Bannu district in which five militants were killed and the second involved some sort of clash in North Waziristan that left at least two other militants dead. Given the location of these incidents it seems reasonable to guess that the “militants” in question are Pakistan Taliban fighters of some description. But the Pakistan Taliban just declared an indefinite ceasefire on Thursday, so attacking its fighters three days later seems like a baffling decision. It’s possible the militants were Islamic State or, given that the Pakistani Taliban isn’t the most cohesive of militant groups, perhaps from a faction that isn’t covered by the ceasefire. As far as I know there’s been no reaction from the Pakistani Taliban as yet.
Local media and residents in Myanmar’s Sagaing region are accusing national security forces of attacking three villages last week and destroying hundreds of homes and other buildings in the process. The villagers themselves appear to have fled at the approach of soldiers, but later returned to find charred ruins where their residential and commercial structures had previously been. Drone footage appears to back up these allegations, showing plumes of smoke rising from the three villages. Myanmar’s ruling junta invariably denies these sorts of accusations and blames them on opposition People’s Defense Force militias.
The North Korean military marked the end of joint US-South Korean military drills on Sunday with a barrage of missiles launched off of the country’s eastern coast. The South Korean military says the launch involved at least eight short-range ballistic missiles, which would make it North Korea’s largest single weapons test, though I think it was more “message” than “test.” The US and South Korean militaries decided to reciprocate, launching eight of their own missiles into the sea on Monday. That’ll definitely show the North Koreans—not to mention that damn water, which has gone un-bombed for far too long if you ask me.
Libyan media is reporting some serious fighting in Tripoli on Thursday and Friday that left at least one combatant dead and several others wounded. Details are few but there’s some concern that the clashes are related to the dispute between dueling prime ministers Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and Fathi Bashagha.
Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States member nations met in Ghana on Saturday to discuss the bloc’s sanctions on the military governments of Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali. They were unable to reach consensus, particularly over the issue of whether to ease or strengthen ECOWAS sanctions on Mali’s junta, so they opted to leave those sanctions unchanged while reiterating that they could be eased or lifted if the junta were to speed up its transition to civilian governance. ECOWAS has not punished Burkina Faso or Guinea as harshly as Mali and the bloc also seems to have decided to stay the course with respect to those countries.
Unknown gunmen attacked the St. Francis Catholic Church in southwestern Nigeria’s Ondo state on Sunday, killing dozens of people. No official casualty count has been released as yet, but local reports suggest at least 50 people were killed, many of those children. To my knowledge there’s been no claim of responsibility as yet, and given the location (Ondo is one of Nigeria’s least violent provinces) it’s a genuine mystery as to who could have carried out this attack or why they would have done so.
The Ukrainian military has undertaken a counterattack in Severodonetsk that, according to Luhansk oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai, had as of Saturday pushed Russian forces out of around a fifth of that contested city. If accurate that would leave the Russians in control of roughly half of Severodonetsk with the Ukrainians in control of the other half. Confirming the accuracy of reports like this is all but impossible under the circumstances. The Russian military, meanwhile, undertook its first sustained bombardment of Kyiv in over a month on Sunday, wounding at least one person and according to the Russians striking tanks sent to Ukraine by other Eastern European countries. Again there’s no confirmation of that claim.
The UK government revealed on Monday that it will send M270 multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, in coordination with the US decision to supply Kyiv with its HIMARS multiple-launch system. The M270 has a range of around 80 kilometers, a bit longer than the 64 kilometer range that HIMARS offers (when using the type of rockets the US is sending) but still not long enough to threaten targets deep inside Russia. In a TV interview on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to target “those facilities we are not targeting yet,” whatever that means, should Ukraine be provided with long-range missiles. Nothing currently on offer constitutes “long-range” weaponry by objective standards, but it’s unclear what standard Putin is using.
The Honduran government announced on Saturday that President Xiomara Castro will be skipping this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, sending Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina in her place. It’s unclear whether Castro’s decision is a response to the Biden administration’s decision to exclude the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela (see below), but that seems like a reasonable conclusion.
Finally, you’ll be pleased to know that with the summit’s preliminary events set to begin on Monday in Los Angeles, the Biden administration spent the weekend trying to prevent it from becoming a diplomatic embarrassment:
When leaders gather this week in Los Angeles at the Summit of the Americas, the focus is likely to veer from common policy changes — migration, climate change and galloping inflation — and instead shift to something Hollywood thrives on: the drama of the red carpet.
With Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador topping a list of leaders threatening to stay home to protest the U.S.’ exclusion of authoritarian leaders from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, experts say the event could turn into a embarrassment for U.S. President Joe Biden. Even some progressive Democrats have criticized the administration for bowing to pressure from exiles in the swing state of Florida and barring communist Cuba, which attended the last two summits.
“The real question is why the Biden administration didn’t do its homework,” said Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister who now teaches at New York University.
While the Biden administration insists the president in Los Angeles will outline his vision for a “sustainable, resilient, and equitable future” for the hemisphere, Castañeda said it’s clear from the last-minute wrangling over the guest list that Latin America is not a priority for the U.S. president.
The main summit doesn’t begin until Wednesday, so there are still a couple of days to try to iron things out. But Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, have reportedly been calling wavering Latin American leaders to convince them to attend despite the growing bad blood over the perceived snubs. At this point it’s far from clear whether López Obrador or any other regional leaders who’ve hinted at a boycott will be there.
It should be noted that this situation was entirely avoidable. The Summit of the Americas is technically an Organization of American States event. Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are all at present outside the OAS, so the Biden administration could have claimed that its hands were tied with respect to the guest list instead of making a point of excluding those three countries in order to score domestic political points with exile/expat communities in the US. Or the administration could have just invited everybody and avoided the controversy altogether, though again it wouldn’t have been able to grandstand for domestic constituencies. Whatever happens this week, the administration chose this outcome for political reasons.