US military personnel on the Japanese island of Okinawa have been banned from drinking, and restricted to their bases or off-base residences following an automobile crash involving a local man and a US Marine. The Okinawan was killed, and the 21-year old Marine was arrested on suspicion of drinking and driving. Incidents between US troops based on the island and local residents are nothing new, and the relationship between the two groups has always been strained to say the least. With 25,000 US soldiers, and 1,000,000+ Okinawans occupying a relatively small island, tensions are expected. Criminal actions by US soldiers, unfortunately, have become a common occurrence and only serve to increase the amounts of tension and distrust. US commanders realize there is a problem and that it is not going away. “When our service members fail to live up to the high standards we set for them, it damages the bonds between bases and local communities and makes it harder for us to accomplish our mission,” U.S. Forces Japan said in a released statement Sunday night. “We are committed to being good neighbors with our host communities.”
Unfortunately for Okinawans, the US military presence on their island is not going to diminish anytime soon. The situation with North Korea in the short term, and the potential future ambitions of the People’s Republic of China will ensure Okinawa remains vital to American defense plans in the Pacific. In view of this reality, it is in the best interests of all parties to find a way to peacefully co-exist.
Operationally, the forces stationed on Okinawa represent a sizeable fraction of US power in the Western Pacific. 62% of US military facilities in Japan are located on the island. At Kadena Air Base is the US Air Force’s 18th Wing, comprising two F-15C Eagle squadrons, one squadron of KC-135 Stratotankers, a detachment of E-3C Sentry aircraft, and other attachments. The US Marines have the bulk of the 3rd Marine Division, and main elements of III MEF based on Okinawa. The US and Japan have agreed to relocate 5,000 US Marines from Okinawa to other locations in the Pacific to help ameliorate the tense relationship between US service personnel and local residents. The relocations are not expected to begin until 2020 at the earliest.
The fate of the Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan remains unknown this evening. The diesel sub has been missing for two days. The last communication between San Juan and higher headquarters was on Wednesday. She was in the area of San Jorge bay at the time. Although an Argentinian Navy spokesman told local television that the sub cannot be considered lost yet, the search was formally classified as a search and rescue operation earlier tonight. A NASA P-3C Orion that was in Argentina for an unrelated exercise was offered by the US to assist in the search. Buenos Aries accepted the offer and the Orion is actively taking part in the operation. Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Britain and South Africa have also formally offered assistance. A Chilean patrol aircraft is on its way to join the search at the moment. It is unclear whether or not Argentina has accepted any other offers of assistance.
The search efforts are being hampered by high winds and rough seas in the area. Time is critical in an active search and rescue operation involving a sub potentially in danger. The longer the search drags out, the more likely it becomes that San Juan has suffered a catastrophic malfunction, or other type of emergency.
San Juan is a diesel-electric submarine built by Thyssen Nordseewerke in Germany. She was commissioned in 1985 and served without major issue. Her mid-life upgrade took place between 2008 and 2013. Since then San Juan has taken part in routine operations and exercises in the waters around Argentina. She has a compliment of 37 but was carrying a slightly larger crew of 44 during this cruise.
The rift between Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe and the nation’s military appears to be moving into a dangerous new stage. Unusual military activity including armored vehicles staked out at strategic points around the capital city of Harare is being reported. ZBC, the national broadcaster has been occupied by soldiers. Explosions have been heard across the city as well. The US and British embassies are advising their citizens in country to shelter in place while the uncertain political situation plays out. The embassies are playing it cautious with their descriptions of what is happening. However, for all intents and purposes, a coup attempt against Mugabe appears to be underway.
There has been speculation that a coup might be in the works. Mugabe’s ruling party accused one of the nation’s top military officers of ‘treasonable conduct.’ General Constantino Chiwenga had warned of possible military action after Mugabe dismissed Emmerson Mnangagwa, his vice president, last week after a flare up over succession. Mnangagwa was seen as the heir apparent to succeed Mugabe, but Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe has become the next in line. The rift between Grace Mugabe and Mnangagwa has split the Zanu-PF party. Supporters of the vice president have been purged in recent weeks as Mugabe appears to be setting the stage for his wife’s rise to power.
As events in Zimbabwe continue to develop in the coming hours and days I will provide updates.
Tomorrow, Venezuela’s newly created debt restructuring committee is scheduled to meet with creditors in hopes of renegotiating, or restructuring $69 Billion of Venezuela’s outstanding debt. It is not presently clear just how many creditors will actually be attending the meeting. It is also unknown if the meeting will include frank discussions about restructuring Venezuela’s current debt, or if Venezuelan officials will use the opportunity to simply blame the current economic situation on US sanctions. Quite honestly, it is unclear at this time whether or not a meeting will even take place tomorrow.
As meeting preparations continue this evening rumors of default continue to swirl from Caracas to Wall Street. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has adamantly insisted that his country will never default on its debt. Despite his assurances, speculation is growing that the true purpose of tomorrow’s meeting is to lay the foundation for default. Venezuela’s economic situation is beyond dire. It’s cash reserves are nearly dried up, and US sanctions are making it impossible for Venezuela to refinance its debt. Securing a debt restructure in the current climate is virtually impossible. Therefore, Maduro’s only other option would be to declare insolvency and default on the country’s $150 Billion in debt.
The uncertainty surrounding Venezuela’s economic future is causing anxiety internationally. A default could possibly spark a global financial crisis, although the prospects of this happening are low. There is still a possibility of Russia extending a lifeline and saving the day. Or, at least postponing the inevitable for some time. The two nations are expected to sign a debt restructuring deal later this week that will provide some relief for Maduro’s socialist paradise.
Realistically, however, even Russian assistance might not be enough. After years of political catastrophe, social unrest, and economic disasters, time is truly running out for Venezuela. What happens this week will likely determine its fate whether Maduro is prepared to face the truth or not.
Not surprisingly, the media has been reluctant to grasp the message embedded between the lines of President Trump’s speeches, and remarks concerning North Korea on his Far East tour. It is apparent US patience is wearing thin when it comes to the future of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities. However, Washington’s diminished willingness to endure is not the result of a personal restlessness on the part of Trump. It exists in view of the fact that the North Koreans are fervently working to produce a functioning ballistic missile that can reach US shores, along with a hydrogen weapon that can be attached to it. In the early days of the Trump administration it was made clear to him that North Korea has been moving rapidly in that direction, emboldened by US reluctance to effectively address his nation’s WMD programs over the past twenty years. Trump is not handling North Korea in the same manner as his predecessors did. Kim Jong Un has taken some time to digest the new reality and figure out a way to contend with the increased American pressure. His new strategy is to engineer a workable missile and weapon before the United States can stop him. In essence, Kim has turned the twenty-three year old marathon between the US and North Korea into a sprint to the finish line. President Trump, his foreign policy, and military advisers recognize this even though the media refuses to.
Trump is now in China for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. North Korean tensions will undoubtedly dominate their discussions. The two presidents have been working to handle the North Korean situation together, however, it appears as if that approach has earned a limited return. Trump will likely inform Xi that time is running out and if China is resolved to decisively influence the situation now is the time. Xi’s position is understandable. He does not want to see a war erupt between North Korea and the US and her allies in such close proximity to China’s borders. Nor does he want North Korea to collapse beneath its own weight and be replaced by unified Korea that is pro-US.
To avoid either one of these possibilities from becoming reality, any Chinese move needs to be centered around changing the North Korean regime internally. Despite the image of Kim Jong Un controlling every facet of the North Korean government, factions do exist in Pyongyang. There is a pro-China faction that, if cultured and funded properly, could serve as the instrument to remove Kim from power and replace him with one that is more moderate in tone, and does not pose such a flagrant threat to the US. A Beijing-backed coup attempt carries a host of potential dangers as well as rewards. Yet at this point in the game, if the choices for Xi are to do nothing or do something akin to playing with fire, the Chinese President’s best option may be to choose the fire option and accept the risks of being burned.