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.
On Sunday, the West African nation of Guinea was rocked by a coup and subsequent military takeover. The target of the coup, President Alpha Conde, has been deposed and is now being held under guard by the military. Several hours of gunfire occurred around the capital city of Conakry following the coup. Yet by the evening, Conde’s supporters had either laid down their arms or fled the city. Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, the coup leader has moved rapidly to consolidate his hold on power. In an announcement on state television, Doumbouya said “the Guinean personalization of political life is over. We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people.” This statement was a direct reference to the rampant corruption Conte was notorious for.
After meeting with government ministers earlier today, Doumbouya said a new “union” government will be formed in a matter of weeks and promised there will be no witch hunt against members of the former government. By many accounts from people on the ground in Guinea, the coup is being welcomed by many citizens. Conde was an unpopular leader whose corruption and desire for absolute power is well documented. Protests against his rule broke out in 2019 following a Conde-supported constitutional referendum leading to civil unrest and violence. Over 100 people reportedly were killed in these clashes.
Internationally though, Doumbouya’s action has brought on condemnation and threats of sanctions. The United Nations, Western African Union and regional ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) have all come out against the coup and called for a return to civilian rule. Africa has seen a number of coups in recent years and political stability is becoming less common. There is an economic element to this weekend’s action as well. Guinea holds the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, as well as untapped iron ore deposits. The markets for both bauxite and iron ore have been rattled as uncertainty over the political situation in Guinea is increasing considerably. This has the potential to cast a shadow over iron ore trading especially for a period of time.
The departure of the US military from Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan on Thursday evening effectively brings an end to US operations in that country. For almost two decades Bagram was the centerpiece of the US presence in Afghanistan. Now, with the last US troops having quietly departed the base, the matter of Afghanistan’s future comes into focus. Right now, there are growing doubts about the ability of Afghan security forces to check advances made by Taliban forces around the country, as well as the future of the US commitment to Afghanistan’s government. This commitment seems to be coming to an end given in the midst of a Taliban offensive that threatens to eventually topple the government and bring about a civil war. In fact, the US is updating plans for an emergency evacuation of its embassy in Kabul should the deteriorating security situation threaten remaining US personnel.
Independent central governments have not had a permanent place in contemporary Afghanistan. Following the departure of Soviet forces in 1989, it was not long before the coalition government collapsed, dragging the country into a civil war that saw the rise of the Taliban. Following the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001, a new Afghan government came into being with Hamid Karzai at the helm. This government had significant US and international support, enabling it to begin the rebuilding process. Afghanistan’s economy, healthcare, education, transport, and agriculture were improved, largely with outside help. US and NATO forces trained Afghan security forces to combat the growing Taliban insurgency.
Now the international support is largely removed and it will be up to the Afghan government and its security forces to hold the line. As the situation stands at the moment, there are few observers or analysts expecting them to succeed. Afghanistan has been historically driven by a tribal mentality. The responsibility that citizens have to ensure the continued security and function of a central government run second to the responsibility and devotion to their local tribal rulers. The people running the government in Kabul at any given time are regarded warily. This is the case right now, despite the continued US and Western efforts over the past two decades to change this mindset.
In the coming days and weeks, expect to see the Taliban continue to make gains as the Kabul government struggles to find its footing. Conditions appear to be ripe for a potential government collapse by early September if events continue progressing as they have been recently.
On Friday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Myanmar, as well as a condemnation of its military’s seizure of power in February. The resolution was not unanimous by any means with over thirty-five nation abstaining. Predictably, China and Russia were two of them. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, yet they do carry a considerable amount of political weight provided that a majority of world and regional powers support their passage. In this case aside from China, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were the other Southeast Asian nations that abstained. Belarus was the only nation to oppose the resolution.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry rejected the UN resolution, calling it a document “based on one-sided sweeping allegations and false assumptions.” The government has also sent a letter of objection to the office of the UN General Secretary.
Despite the resolution, a growing number of nations in Asia are reluctant to apply financial pressure on the regime in Myanmar. Stringent measures such as these run the risk of increasing China’s regional influence. India and Japan in particular have factored this into their respective policies regarding Myanmar. For the United States, the positions some of its allies in Asia have taken on Myanmar undermines its broad policy of defending democracies. This policy has become a keynote of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. India and China have also avoided joining Western democracies applying sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.
It appears the United States will have to face the fact that a united front against the military regime is simply not possible in the current climate. In principle, there’s minimal opposition to the theme of defending democracies and ensuring the safety of democratically elected regimes. However, once economic and geopolitical realities enter the equation, lofty principles take a back seat for most nation-states. Preventing China’s regional influence from rising, for example, is considerably more significant to New Delhi and Tokyo then punishing the military regime in Myanmar.
Apparently, this is something the Biden administration has overlooked
The latest round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza have concluded. The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire has taken effect and it appears this latest spasm of Israel-Hamas violence is destined to follow a familiar pattern: Tensions rose and fighting between Israel and Gaza militants broke out. Escalation followed with Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes taking place around the clock. After an obligatory period of silence, Palestinian government officials quietly approached UN and Egyptian diplomats and inquired about the chances of a third-party ceasefire. After a period of backchannel diplomacy, a deal was formed and presented to both parties. Israel agreed without preconditions since its military goals had already been met. Palestinian authorities took their cues from Hamas and readily agreed to the ceasefire. Now the fighting is over and the post-crisis cycle begins once again. Residents of Gaza will clear the rubble, Hamas will begin funneling in weapons, Israel will warily monitor its neighbor and the rest of the world will soon lose interest. Oh, and of course Hamas will claim victory.
We’ve been down this road enough times before and in all likelihood will be traveling it again sooner than expected.
Tensions will remain high for some time, and this ceasefire is no less fragile than those of the past. It will not take much for the fighting to resume. The underlying causes of the conflict remain unchanged: land rights in West Bank, religious tensions in Jerusalem and no prospects for a Mid-East peace process aimed at resolving the conflict in an acceptable way for all parties.
Last but not least is President Joe Biden’s attempt to take some credit for the ceasefire when the truth is that his efforts, undertaken relatively late in the game, came at a point when a ceasefire was already a foregone conclusion. Sources I’ve spoken with in the past 4 hours have confirmed that Biden’s discussions with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came after Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire were already underway.