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World roundup: September 30-October 1 2023
Stories from Egypt, Azerbaijan, Slovakia, and elsewhere
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Apologies for the lack of a voiceover. I usually try to do one for these Sunday night roundups but I’ve been dealing with a scratchy voice today and it’s going be a busier than usual podcasting week so I’m trying to keep my powder dry, as it were.
THIS WEEKEND IN HISTORY
September 30, 737: The Battle of the Baggage
September 30, 1938: The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Nazi Germany sign the Munich Agreement, giving the Nazis control of Czechoslovakia’s predominantly German Sudetenland region. Depending on your worldview you may regard British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s actions here as either the most vile act of appeasement in human history, a necessary evil (that Chamberlain may still have handled badly) given that Britain was in no shape for a war in 1938, or the germ of a plan Chamberlain had to ally with Hitler against the Soviet Union. You decide.
October 1, 331 BC: This is the generally accepted date for the Battle of Gaugamela, in which Alexander the Great’s Greek-Macedonian army decisively defeated a larger Persian army and almost instantly gained control over the western half of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Persian Emperor Darius fled east hoping to recruit a new army, but he was murdered by his cousin Bessus, who proclaimed himself the new emperor. His reign was short-lived, and Alexander had conquered the whole empire by 329.
October 1, 1827: An imperial Russian army defeats the Qajars at Yerevan during the 1826-1828 Russo-Persian War. The Russians followed up by capturing Tabriz, the largest northern Iranian city, at which point the Qajars surrendered. Under the terms of the ensuing treaty, they gave both the Erivan Khanate and the Nakhichevan Khanate to the Russians. This essentially created the modern nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively, and ended centuries of Persian domination in the southern Caucasus—which would henceforth be dominated by Russia instead.
October 1, 1918: Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force captures Damascus, effectively bringing World War I to an end in the Middle East.
Yemen’s national air carrier, Yemenia, has suspended the country’s only regular international flight to and from Sanaa over a financial dispute with northern Yemen’s rebel administration. Those flights, to and from the Jordanian capital Amman, started up last May as Saudi Arabia eased its air blockade over northern Yemen and have been critical especially for people in northern Yemen who need medical treatment that isn’t available domestically. According to Yemenia, the rebels are blocking access to some $80 million in funds deposited in Sanaa banks. The rebels deny that.
A suicide bomber injured two police officers near the Turkish Interior Ministry in Ankara on Sunday, while police subsequently gunned down an apparent second attacker. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for the attack through one of its media outlets. The incident took place a few hours before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was scheduled to reopen parliament following its summer recess, but there’s nothing to indicate that he was the intended target. The Turkish military says it struck at least 20 PKK targets in northern Iraq in response, killing an unspecified number of PKK fighters.
US Senator Bob Menendez’s legal troubles may be costing the Egyptian government a few million dollars in military aid. Menendez’s (possibly temporary) replacement as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin (D-MD), said over the weekend that he plans to block $235 million in US aid unless the Egyptian government makes measurable improvements in its dismal human rights record. That’s the maximum remaining amount of Egypt’s annual $1.3 billion aid package that can be withheld by law; the Biden administration has already withheld an additional $85 million that is dependent on Egyptian authorities releasing political prisoners but decided to waive human rights concerns with respect to the $235 million. The ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks (D-NY), similarly hinted at blocking the aid on Friday. Menendez is accused of using his position as SFRC chair in part to enable arms sales to Egypt.
The Azerbaijani military said that one of its soldiers was killed by a sniper near the Armenian border on Saturday and that its forces retaliated. Armenian officials denied the allegation. One possible next step following the Azerbaijani defeat of the secessionist Nagorno-Karabakh regional government earlier this month is an Azerbaijani play for parts of Armenia proper. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has been known to speak of Armenia as “western Azerbaijan” from time to time and it’s no secret that he at least desires a corridor across Armenia linking Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan. So any border flareup is worth mentioning because any of them could quickly become the pretext for an Azerbaijani military offensive.
In Karabakh, meanwhile, authorities welcomed a United Nations mission for the first time in roughly 3 decades. The UN team arrived to find the region almost completely emptied of its former Armenian inhabitants. More than 100,000 people have evacuated Karabakh for Armenia proper, according to the World Health Organization, out of a population estimated to have been around or perhaps a bit more than 120,000. Part of the mission’s aim is to assess the need for humanitarian relief for the newly displaced as well as anyone remaining in Karabakh.
The Afghan embassy in New Delhi closed on Sunday, citing “a significant reduction in both personnel and resources available to us” from the Indian government. The embassy was still affiliated with the previous, US-backed Afghan administration so it wasn’t actually representing an existing government. The embassy issued a statement saying that the Indian government’s neglect had made it impossible for embassy staff to do their jobs, whatever those might have been. Many Afghan embassies are still occupied by staff appointed by the former government. Like every other government around the world New Delhi has not formally recognized Afghanistan’s current, Taliban-led administration. But Indian officials have no compelling reason to alienate that administration either.
Challenger Mohamed Muizzu won Saturday’s Maldivian presidential runoff, defeating incumbent Ibrahim Solih with some 54 percent of the vote amid 85 percent turnout according to election officials. One of the axes on which Maldivian politics spins is the question of orientation toward India or China, and Muizzu is known to favor China as opposed to the India-friendly Solih. Muizzu won’t take office until mid-November but he’s already fulfilled a campaign promise—after the election, Solih’s government agreed to move former President Abdulla Yameen from prison to house arrest. Muizzu is a member of Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives and had made releasing the latter from prison a campaign issue.
Libya’s Medsky Airways operated a flight from Tripoli’s Mitiga airport to Rome on Saturday, which wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t the first flight from Libya to Italy since the European Union put the kibosh on such things back in 2014. In fact that EU ban is still in place, so apparently it’s unclear how this particular flight was allowed to take place. The ban was imposed after militias took over Tripoli and I guess if you squint hard enough that’s no longer the case, but the country is still pretty anarchic all things considered. There’s been no clarifying comment from the Italian government.
Violence between supporters of Liberia’s two largest political parties, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change and the opposition Unity Party, left at least three people dead in Lofa county on Friday. Liberia is heading into a general election on October 10 and this incident is only going to raise fears of more generalized election-related violence in the coming days.
The Malian army reported new fighting between its military and Coalition of Azawad Movements rebels in Mali’s Gao region. The CMA claims that its fighters are in control of Gao’s Bamba district. The group is also saying that its attack on a military base in Mali’s Mopti region a few days ago left 81 Malian soldiers dead, which cannot be verified. Malian officials have only acknowledged that an attack took place without announcing any casualties.
As you may have heard the US Congress postponed its next government shutdown over the weekend, with less than an hour to spare. After watching Republicans in the House of Representatives bicker with each other for weeks over…well, your guess is as good as mine, it turns out all they really needed was for new Ukraine spending to be left out of the continuing resolution. This has caused a great deal of hand-wringing over the possibility that US support for Ukraine could be interrupted, which is difficult to imagine given that the majority of the US political establishment still seems squarely in the pro-aid camp. My impression is that public opinion polling on support for Ukraine seems to be trending slightly in an anti-aid direction, but a) that’s just my impression, b) any movement has been pretty small and may depend more on poll wording than any real trend, and c) public opinion is mostly irrelevant when it comes to US foreign policy.
So I suspect Ukraine will be fine in the end. If these congressional shenanigans to risk some sort of lapse in US aid I would imagine the Pentagon will do some more of its miraculous accounting to create additional budget space.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić spent part of his weekend denying claims, coming primarily from the US government, that his military has massed forces along the Kosovan border. Vučić called the claims a “campaign of lies,” even as he was also, um, ordering a withdrawal of Serbian forces along the Kosovan border. Meanwhile, NATO announced on Sunday that it’s adding another 600 British soldiers to its “Kosovo Force” (KFOR) peacekeeping deployment, just in case I guess. Of those, 200 will be new to the country while the other 400 are already in Kosovo on what sounds like a training mission. Other NATO members may join the deployment as well.
Former Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico’s SMER-SSD party took around 23 percent of the vote in Saturday’s parliamentary election to emerge as the largest party in the next legislative session. The victory gives Fico the inside track toward forming Slovakia’s next government though some potentially difficult coalition talks are about to get underway.
Fico is friendly toward Russia and campaigned in part on a pledge to stop sending arms to Ukraine. The likelihood that he’ll be the country’s next prime minister has also caused a great deal of hand-wringing, as though Slovakian arms shipments are the thing that’s keeping Ukraine afloat. This strikes me as a tad overblown, but what do I know? Slovakia has been an important way station for shipping weapons to Ukraine, but that can be moved elsewhere if necessary. It’s not even clear that Fico will be able to hold the line here when he negotiates with potential coalition partners that favor continuing military aid. He may need to compromise—say, by cutting off supplies from Slovakia’s existing stockpiles but allowing the country’s defense industry to keep shipping arms to Kyiv. In the worst case scenario Ukraine’s NATO pals can just isolate and work around Slovakia the way they’re currently doing with Hungary. A Fico-led government could create a number of problems for liberals within the EU and NATO moving forward, but I think Ukraine will get by somehow.
The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote Monday on a US resolution that would authorize an international policing mission to Haiti in an attempt to quell out of control gang violence in that country. The resolution would also expand an arms embargo to cover all Haitian gangs, which is apparently something that had been requested by the Chinese government. It’s unlikely the US would bring forward the resolution if it weren’t fairly sure of passage but it is still theoretically possible that China and/or Russia might veto it. The mission itself still has to be formulated but the Kenyan government has volunteered to lead it and provide some 1000 police officers, while a number of Caribbean states have offered to contribute and the Biden administration is likely to provide logistical support at a minimum.
Finally, World Politics Review’s Aude Darnal discusses the relevance of “Global South” as a concept in international relations:
Last month’s BRICS Summit generated a wide range of reactions, ranging from those praising the group as a necessary vehicle for change in the global order to those warning against a potential new anti-Western platform for U.S. adversaries. There has also been a significant amount of dismissiveness directed toward the group by observers from both the U.S. and the Global South. Amid the criticisms most frequently leveled are the economic and political heterogeneity of its members and their diverging interests, which combined with BRICS’ decision to expand its membership, they argue, will purportedly undermine its cohesiveness and weaken its potential influence.
If these criticisms sound familiar, it’s because they are regularly recycled by detractors of non-Western-centered initiatives aiming to question and alter the global governance status quo. They also feature in several recent articles that question the validity of the concept of the “Global South” and even call for the retirement of the term altogether, which perhaps not coincidently were published in the weeks surrounding the BRICS Summit.
To be sure, there have also been articles offering thoughtful analysis of BRICS’ opportunities and challenges and the need for the group to clarify its objectives and strategy. These help explain why, despite the current members’ competing visions and existing tensions, nine countries accepted invitations to join BRICS and 40 others expressed their interest in doing so. The new and prospective BRICS members see the group as an opportunity to come together to focus on shared interests, and it would be a mistake for critics to overlook the momentum this creates.
The linkage to the Global South concept is key to understanding why. Instead of dismissing the term as invalid or irrelevant, it is to the contrary important to clarify what the Global South is and is not, and to demonstrate the shortcomings of the most widely used arguments against the concept by applying them to Western-centered labels and other geopolitical and economic groups.
To that end, there is a vast body of literature exploring and conceptualizing the meaning of the Global South, created by academics from around the world, including in the West. In a nutshell, the concept helps subvert paradigms and pejorative labels created by historically dominant powers by shedding light on “the different levels of in- or exclusion in international decision-making processes,” as Sinah Theres Kloss argues.
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