Ethiopia Unraveling

Several nations are ordering their non-essential embassy staff members and dependents out of Ethiopia as the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) move closer to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The United States has joined Israel, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark in removing non-essential personnel from Ethiopia. The order was given on Friday and the US State Department is also urging all US nationals to leave the country too. A number of other rebel groups have joined the TPLF, forming an anti-government alliance that looks to unseat Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power one year after he launched the offensive in Tigray that has ultimately led to this point. In November 2020 there were very few people who could even entertain the notion that Addis Ababa would be under TPLF threat twelve months later.

The government has declared a state of emergency that will allow conscription of any military-aged civilian with weapons. Veterans are also being asked to reenlist in the military. In Addis Ababa, police are searching houses to uncover potential Tigrayans who are connected, or sympathetic to the TPLF. How much good these measures will do with the enemy fast approaching the city remains to be seen.

Beyond Ethiopia’s borders there have been a number of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the conflict to an end. The Biden administration’s press for negotiations to end the fighting fell upon deaf ears, and so have the selective sanctions placed on some Ethiopian officials by the US government. The reluctance of both sides to turn to diplomacy has derailed efforts by the African Union to mediate an end to the fighting and bring about a cease-fire. Predictably, United Nation Security Council calls for on all parties to refrain “from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness” are being ignored. The Security Council is also concerned with how this conflict will affect the stability of the region. The Horn of Africa has long been a hotbed of volatility. The prospect of the fighting leading to a division of Ethiopia similar to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s is beginning to make diplomats around the world uneasy.

North Korea’s Food Situation Is Worsening.

Concerted efforts are underway by the North Korean government and the nation’s northern neighbors to stave off disaster as a major food emergency threatens to become worse. The government is now encouraging citizens to consume less food through 2025, the year when the border with China will reopen. The border closed last year as a COVID-19 precaution and caused significant food shortages and turmoil. The absence of imports from China nearly collapsed the North Korean economy and food prices saw significant increases. Right now, it seems unlikely the border will remain closed until mid-decade, considering that freight traffic between the two countries is resuming shortly. North Korea relies on China for 90% of its trade.

The government in Pyongyang has laid blame for the continuing crisis on ‘factors beyond its control’ which prevent the North from achieving food self-sufficiency. Not surprisingly, the continuing economic sanctions by the US and UN are seen as the most significant obstacle. China and Russia are now engaged in an attempt to persuade the UN Security Council to ease sanctions. The draft resolution includes lifting a ban on some North Korean exports such as seafood and textiles, however, the likelihood of the draft finding support among the other security council members. A single veto will resign the draft resolution to the trash heap and send North Korea right back to square one.

By this juncture it has been made abundantly clear that North Korea is unwilling to take the one step that will make the sanctions permanently disappear, and that step is denuclearization. Pyongyang views its nuclear arsenal as the only thing standing between it and complete dissolution. Yet Kim Jong Un seems more ready to continue with the game of chicken at present, with little regard for the future. Kim’s shortsighted thinking could ultimately prove disastrous for North Korea.

Syria Update 9 October, 2019: Operation Peace Spring Begins

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Operation Peace Spring, Turkey’s long-anticipated military operation to establish a buffer zone free of Kurdish militias in northeast Syria is now underway. The offensive commenced with airstrikes against suspected Kurdish militia, and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the region. Turkish President  Recep Tayyip Erdogan has officially claimed the purpose of the operation is to establish a safe zone that will house Syrian refugees. Erdogan has also promised to respect Syrian sovereignty.

So far Syrian ground forces do not appear to have crossed the border but that will happen eventually. For now, the first phase of the operation is underway and focused on preparing the battlefield with air and artillery. When the enemy positions (real and suspected) have been sufficiently weakened, only then will Turkish ground forces cross over. That moment could come in a matter of hours or days, depending on a number of factors both political and military.

Reaction from around the world has been swift, and guarded for the most part. The UN Security Council will hold a private meeting on Thursday to discuss the Turkish action. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has urged Turkey to ‘act with restraint.’ In Washington, President Trump stated the US does not endorse the operation, and has made clear to Turkey that he believes it is a ‘bad idea.’ The president’s full statement, released by the White House is as follows:

“The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”

There will be additional updates posted on this blog later in the evening, or as events unfold.

Venezuela Update: 25 January, 2019 5:00 PM Eastern Time

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On Friday Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido rejected Nicolas Maduro’s offer of talks, labeling them as “fake dialogue.” Today Maduro also appealed to President Trump and said he is ready to talk, without specifying what subjects he is prepared to discuss.

 

20 people were allegedly killed at the hands of Venezuelan security forces, and pro-government armed groups in protests held on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to UN human rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. The commissioner cited reliable sources when providing the number, although there has been no independent confirmation.

 

Maduro is closing the Venezuelan embassy, and consulates in the United States. With diplomatic relations now broken, US diplomats are to leave from Venezuela by the weekend. The departures have already started and are expected to be fully complete by Saturday morning.

 

The US has asked for a Saturday morning meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Venezuelan situation.

 

International reaction is falling along the expected political, and ideological lines. The United States firmly backs the opposition and recognizes Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Most other Western Hemisphere nation-states are following the US lead, and so is Great Britain. The European Union, and many European nations are voicing support for Guaido’s opposition, but thus far have not officially recognized him as being Venezuela’s leader.

 

Not all Western Hemisphere nations back Guaido, however. Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba have been steadfastly standing behind Maduro. Again, it comes down to political and ideological commonality. All three nations are leftist states. Mexico is staying on the sidelines despite past statements of support for the Maduro government by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

 

Outside of the Western Hemisphere, Russia, China, Syria, and Turkey are Maduro’s major backers.

 

Author’s Notes: We’ll continue keeping close tabs on Venezuela in the coming days. Barring any major events unfolding there or elsewhere, the next article published on Today’s Dirt will be the next entry on the US-Russia Military Balance in Europe. Enjoy your weekend!

Germany’s Global Role is Enhanced in 2019

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Germany is beginning 2019 with two high-profile roles in the realms of defense, and diplomacy. As of 1 January, a German brigade will form the core of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the same time that the nation is beginning a two-year stint as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. Berlin has pledged to assume a larger role in global affairs. These two endeavors will certainly give it the opportunity to do just that in the coming year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen her domestic political clout deteriorate over the last year, and is now turning her attention to the international front in the hopes of securing a more prominent position for Germany on the world stage.

With its seat on the UN Security Council, Germany will look to extend and strengthen multilateralism and the strength of the UN. Climate control, peacekeeping, crisis management, and conflict resolution are other subjects that the Germans appear poised to address during their time on the security council. Germany will also use its position to push back against the United States and President Trump’s “America First” policies which are in direct opposition to the multilateralism so coveted by Berlin.

Germany is taking on a vital role as it assumes the lead in NATO’s VJTF. The 9th Panzerlehr Brigade will act as the main component for the task force in 2019, with supporting attachments coming from the Netherlands and Norway. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania will also be providing forces as well. The VJTF is a brigade-sized formation of 8,000 NATO troops and serves as a rapid reaction force. Its creation came about following the 2014 Wales Summit where NATO leaders agreed the establishment of such a force was necessary given events taking place in Ukraine at the time. Although the VJTF can be deployed to any region of Europe its primarily focused on potential deployment and operations in the Baltic states during a crisis.

With these new positions of international responsibility, and leadership also comes added scrutiny for Angela Merkel. Her coalition government is a fragile entity at the moment and any misstep abroad could collapse the entire structure.