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Sunday, May 22, 2016

What's going on in the World Today 150522





Where France Would Intervene Next in Africa

For decades, France has kept unusually close ties with its former colonies in Africa, ruthlessly guarding its interests there through cultural and economic power, covert action, and dozens of military interventions. Indeed, former French President Francois Mitterand once pronounced Africa to be France's future in the 21st century. But in the post-Cold War era, France's relationship with Francophone African countries has changed – for better and for worse. Successive French presidents have declared an end to francafrique, a term denoting the extent of France's neocolonial involvement with its former empire in Africa....

In South Africa, an Opportunity to Stall the Government's Descent

South Africa's economy is getting worse, which could spell trouble for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as August municipal elections draw near. South African voters seem prepared to express their displeasure with the party's leadership at the polls, and the impending electoral losses might prove difficult for the ANC to recoup. With the ruling party's dominance of South African politics hanging in the balance, a last-minute delay by the country's electoral commission might be just what the ANC needs to avert disaster. Click here to continue reading…...


North Korea says to push nuclear program, defying U.N. sanctions

Secretive North Korea said it will strengthen self-defensive nuclear weapons capability in a decision adopted at a congress of its ruling Workers' Party congress, its KCNA news agency reported on Monday, in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

The congress, in its fourth day, is the first to be held in 36 years and North Korea granted visas to scores of foreign journalists from 12 countries, whose movements are closely monitored. One BBC journalist, not reporting directly on the congress, was detained over the content of his broadcasts and was being expelled from the country...

North Korea: Russia Joins U.N. Sanctions Regime May 20, 2016

Russia's central bank has ordered local banks and financial institutions to halt transactions with North Korea, joining the U.N.-led sanctions effort on Pyongyang, Radio Free Asia reported May 20. The Russian central bank is also reportedly banning transactions of bonds held by North Korean individuals, organizations and other groups subjected to the U.N. sanctions, and pushing Russian financial institutions to close any accounts deemed to be linked to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.




Mexico, on the Edge of Now

I recommend never leaving for a trip without bringing a literary companion along. If an onslaught of meetings awaits me at my destination, a collection of short stories or some poetry will do a fine job of filling the crevices of a jam-packed agenda. If several days of leisure lie ahead, then the shoulder aches from hauling a hefty novel in my bag will be well worth the hours spent engrossed in a great story (while I envy all of you efficient Kindle readers, with your slim, lit screens, I still prefer the old-fashioned reading experience of dog-eared pages, crisp and musty paper aromas, airline tickets repurposed as bookmarks.) The selection of a literary companion should never be rushed; careful thought must be given to whose words will best set the scene for what you are about to experience....

Venezuela: President Threatens To Seize Factories

To counter Venezuela's economic crisis, President Nicolas Maduro threatened to seize factories that have stopped production, he said in a speech in the capital Caracas on May 15, BBC reported. The threat comes after Venezuela's largest food and beverage company, Empresas Polar, halted production of beer, blaming government mismanagement for stopping it importing barley. Venezuela's economy has been hit by falling global oil prices. There are shortages of food, medicines and basic goods and Venezuelans also have to cope with energy and water rationing.

The statement also comes after Maduro introduced a nationwide state of emergency, citing foreign and domestic plots to remove him from office. The president said the measures would be in place for three months but would likely be extended over 2017, giving the government more resources to distribute food, basic goods and medicines, as well as mechanisms for the security forces to be able to guarantee public order. A previous state of emergency was implemented in states near the Colombian border last year to prevent smuggling.

Meanwhile, opposition protesters have been rallying in Caracas to push for a recall vote to eject him from power. The opposition, which won control of the National Assembly in elections last year, has collected and submitted a petition in favor of a referendum on Maduro, but the National Electoral Board has so far not verified them. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, if a referendum were held before the end of the year, a recall vote against Maduro would trigger new elections.


Afghanistan: The Reality Behind the Rhetoric

International politics has two levels. The first is rhetoric — speeches and handshakes, photo opportunities and posturing, a whole universe of symbolic gestures that appear on the front pages of newspapers. Below this superficial level is where the real substance lies. Afghanistan exemplifies the disconnect between rhetoric and reality. On Wednesday, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, convened in Islamabad to begin the fifth round of peace talks to end the 14-year war in Afghanistan. As in the past four iterations of negotiations, the Taliban — whose presence the talks are designed to invite — have been absent. But another party is also missing: the Afghans. Click here to continue reading…

Afghanistan: Taliban Leader Killed In Drone Strike, Officials Say May 22, 2016

Afghan National Security Directorate officials confirmed May 22 that Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has been killed after the United States targeted him in a drone strike in southwest Pakistan, near the Afghan border, on May 21, BBC reported. Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and a defense ministry spokesman also said that Mullah Mansoor had been killed. Meanwhile, the Pentagon said the strike had "probably" killed Mullah Mansoor. However, there have been conflicting reports from the Taliban.

Mullah Mansoor took control of the Afghan militant group in July 2015, replacing Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar. Under his leadership, the Taliban managed to capture Kunduz last year and launch large scale attacks on Afghan security forces in several parts of the country. Mullah Mansoor also managed to silence the splinter Taliban group under Mullah Muhammad Rasool, which challenged him, and is credited by his followers for containing the Islamic State in Taliban areas. A vacuum created by his death would once again trigger a leadership struggle and likely complicate the peace process in Afghanistan further.


China's Deployment of MIRVs Risks Ratcheting Up Nuclear Competition in Asia

The second coming of multiple warhead missiles after the Cold War, this time in Asia, has begun with Beijing’s long-awaited deployments of the DF-5B missile. A new book released today by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, The Lure and Pitfalls of MIRVS: From the First to the Second Nuclear Age, finds that India and Pakistan are likely to respond by placing multiple warheads atop some of their missiles. The advent of multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles — or MIRVs — during the Cold War increased superpower arsenals by thousands of warheads, prompting concerns of pre-emptive strikes and foiling attempts at effective strategic arms control...

China Goes on Trial in the South China Sea


While working to expand its role in the Pacific region, China has taken steps to protect its strategic trade routes, resources and markets from foreign interdiction. In part, this has meant trying to cement Beijing's long-standing claims to a broad swath of the South China Sea — claims that China's Pacific Rim rivals dispute. Since the first serious territorial clash occurred in 1974 between China and Vietnam, conflicts have become more frequent, albeit less deadly, with the passing of each decade. At the same time, the islands' various claimants have moved to fortify their positions in any way they can, including by leaning on international law. Rather than constantly trading fire, countries now more frequently exchange accusations, alleging willful misinterpretations of the legal doctrines outlining what constitutes an island, reef, shoal or rock.

Pushing Chinese Steel Abroad

The Chinese government has an unusual problem: The country produces much more steel than it can actually use. A possible solution to the problem comports with the evolution of the Chinese economy...

China: Government To Continue Tax Rebates To Steel Exporters, Despite U.S. Tariff
May 18, 2016

China says it will continue tax rebates to steel exporters, despite a U.S. move to impose duties of more than 500 percent on imports of Chinese cold-rolled flat steel, Reuters reported May 18. The metal is used widely in the manufacture of cars, appliances and in construction. China is trying to cut steel production by up to 150 million tons per year over the next five years. The U.S. Commerce Department has accused Beijing of selling steel below cost as part of its bid to counter slow domestic demand and restructure its steel industry. At the same time, China's steel giants are making moves to set up operations abroad.


Who Will Be Iran"s Face to the World?

A U.S. Supreme Court decision that could block Tehran from accessing $2 billion worth of frozen Iranian-owned U.S. securities has provided rich fodder for sparring between hard-line and pragmatic conservatives in Iran, most notably Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The central bank chief, Iran's vice president and the director general for political affairs in Iran's Foreign Ministry have all blamed "negligent" decisions made under Ahmadinejad's presidency for leaving the funds in European banks, which allowed them to be snatched up by the United States when more stringent sanctions were imposed. For his part, Ahmadinejad has blamed Rouhani's weaknesses in negotiations in arriving at the nuclear deal that led to easing of sanctions for allowing the United States to financially threaten the Islamic republic....

Commander Says Iran Tests 2000km-Range Ballistic Missile

“Two weeks ago, we test-fired a missile with a range of 2000 kilometers and a margin of error of eight meters,” Abdollahi said in a scientific conference in Tehran on Monday, adding that the margin means that the missile enjoys zero error.

"We can guide this ballistic missile...," he added.

The commander refused to provide further details of the missile or its name.

He further emphasized that the headquarters of the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces has allocated 10 percent of defense budget to research projects aimed at strengthening defense power...

Iran cracks down on models posing without headscarves online

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian police have arrested eight people in a new crackdown on models who post images of themselves online without their hair covered, state media reported Monday, part of a larger cultural struggle in the Islamic Republic over the country's future.

The arrests follow the detentions of artists, poets, journalists and activists as moderate President Hassan Rouhani's administration secured a landmark nuclear deal with world powers...


A Pause in Iraq's Sectarian Infighting

Tuz Khurmatu, a diverse town of fewer than 100,000 people, has long been a hot spot for ethnic and sectarian clashes in Iraq. But violence between the Kurdish peshmerga and Iraq's Shiite militias surged after the town's latest cease-fire unraveled on Sunday. On Wednesday, the two factions reached a tentative agreement in Tuz Khurmatu after the United Nations, United States and United Kingdom urged them to defuse tensions and focus on the fight against their common enemy, the Islamic State. So far, violence between the Kurdish and Shiite militias has been largely confined to the town, but the clashes reveal a much broader issue for Iraq, both in its battle against the Islamic State and in its internal, political battle in Baghdad...

Iraq: Protesters Begin Withdrawing From Green Zone May 20, 2016

Protesters have begun to withdraw from Baghdad's Green Zone, which they entered earlier on May 20, storming the parliament building and the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Shafaq reported. The precise details of the day's events are still unclear. At least 39 people are said to have been injured after security forces used a variety of methods including live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons to try to disperse the gathering. At least one person is in critical condition after being shot in the head during the melee. There have also been unconfirmed reports of several deaths. Authorities have declared a curfew covering the entire city and the surrounding areas, while security officials have called for the arrest of all of those who stormed the government buildings.


How Isolation Is Bringing China and Israel Together

A China-Israel free trade agreement (FTA) makes a lot of economic sense. China is one of the world's leading manufacturing markets, while Israel is among the leaders in research and development (R&D). The Chinese want Israeli technology, and the Israelis want the cheaper consumer goods that the Chinese can make. The countries' economic relationship has expanded, with bilateral trade climbing to nearly $11 billion in 2015 from $50 million in 1992, and an FTA would accelerate the process...

A Trade Agreement Holds Great Promise for China and Israel

a lot of economic sense. China is one of the world's leading manufacturing markets, while Israel is among the leaders in research and development (R&D). The Chinese want Israeli technology, and the Israelis want the cheaper consumer goods that the Chinese can make. The countries' economic relationship has expanded, with bilateral trade climbing to nearly $11 billion in 2015 from $50 million in 1992, and an FTA would accelerate the process. It is no surprise, then, that the two recently launched formal negotiations on such a deal. Fewer trade barriers would be good for both sides, but there are also political and supply chain concerns pushing them together...

Israel: Second Commercial Traffic Crossing To Gaza Strip To Be Reopened, May 2, 2016

Israel will reopen a second border point for commercial traffic crossing into the Gaza Strip, an Israeli official said May 2, Reuters reported. No timetable was given for reopening the Erez crossing, which has been closed to commercial traffic since 2000. The official said Israel decided to reopen the crossing in recognition of the fact that a truce between Hamas and Israel is holding, but added that it will also reduce pressure on the only other commercial crossing point from Israel into Gaza, Kerem Shalom. Israel and Egypt have had the self-governing Palestinian territory under comprehensive blockade since 2007.


Russia: Government Not Planning To Sell Tanks To Iran May 18, 2016

Russia is not planning to sell T-90 battle tanks to Iran, the director of Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation said, TASS reported May 18. Director Alexander Fomin said U.N. sanctions prevent Moscow from selling the tanks to Tehran. Notably, sanctions preventing the sale of weaponry like tanks to Iran have been lifted, but Russia would need to seek approval from the U.N. Security Council before it could make a deal. After 2020, however, countries wishing to sell arms to Iran will no longer have to apply for approval. The two countries have already held talks over a proposed T-90 deal, with Iran expressing a desire to manufacture the tanks in Iran rather than purchase them from Russia. Moscow, for its part, would prefer to sell the tanks directly to Tehran. Decades of sanctions have prevented Iran from effectively upgrading its arms and military equipment, leaving it far behind countries it would consider its rivals. Now it is trying to catch up.


Renewed Hope for a Diplomatic Solution in Syria

Diplomacy has done little to bring the Syrian civil war closer to its end, but it might yet be instrumental in restoring the country's failed cease-fire. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on May 2 to try to salvage the United States' faltering diplomatic strategy in Syria. His arrival comes a day after Russia signaled its willingness to extend a recently declared cease-fire in Latakia and Damascus to Aleppo as well — a sign that Washington's heightened engagement with Moscow finally might be paying off. That said, considerable obstacles remain to re-establishing a meaningful nationwide truce. And if the various actors participating in the Syrian civil war refuse to stop fighting one another, it could give the Islamic State the respite it needs to regain momentum.

Syria: Rebel Infighting Kills Dozens East Of Damascus, May 3, 2016

Fighting that erupted between rival rebel groups in the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta on April 28 has killed 10 civilians and dozens of fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said May 3, AFP reported. Clashes reportedly began after fighters from Faylaq al-Rahman attacked those from Jaish al-Islam. Dozens of residents in the area gathered May 3 to protest the ongoing violence, which comes despite a temporary cease-fire in the area. Powerful outside actors including the United States and Russia are working toward a more meaningful truce in Syria, but considerable obstacles remain before one can be established.


Vying to Access the Middle East's Holy Sites

Religion seeks to transcend the boundaries of the physical world, but holy sites are confined within political borders by necessity. The interplay of the spiritual and physical can affect the dynamics of power between the states that administer such sites and the religious communities that worship there. Religious locations can be, in some ways, a double-edged sword for the countries that control them: On one hand, they grant legitimacy to their protectors, but on the other, they often ensure that their rulers are held to higher spiritual standards. But the goals of the pious do not always align with the political and security imperatives of a nation....

The Next Phase of the Jihadist Threat in Saudi Arabia


Although Islamic State-related attacks in Saudi Arabia have increased over the past year, strikes against hard targets still appear to be out of reach.
For al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the end of a more than one-year unofficial truce with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen puts Saudi targets back in the crosshairs.
Saudi authorities may struggle to maintain control of the jihadist threat as Islamic State fighters return from Syria and Iraq with more advanced skills.

Jihadism has deep roots in Saudi Arabia, the second-largest source of foreign militants in Iraq and Syria since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. Since the mid-2000s, Saudi security forces have contained the jihadist threat in the kingdom, aware of the economic and security dangers it could pose if left unchecked. But in the past year, Islamic State activity in Saudi Arabia — and a recent series of raids against alleged militants — has raised fears that the threat may be growing beyond authorities' control....


Saudi Arabia and Iran Struggle to Quash Dissent

As technology has progressed, Internet and cellphone users have gained greater freedom and privacy. At the same time, governments can use some of the same tools to achieve their own ends, whether for simple communication or for better surveillance. For states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia — which, for all their fierce rivalry, share the same struggle in managing political opposition at home — these technologies present both an opportunity and a challenge to leaders striving to stay in control...

On Hostages, Countries Face an Impossible Choice

Editor's Note: The following piece is part of an occasional series in which Fred Burton, Stratfor's vice president of intelligence, reflects on his storied experience as a counterterrorism agent for the U.S. State Department.

By Fred Burton

Canada's resolve to uphold its no-ransom policy for citizens being held captive was put to the test in April when Philippine Islamist group Abu Sayyaf made good on its threats to execute a Canadian hostage. The group had been holding Canadian national John Ridsdel since it captured him and three other people in September 2015. After Canada refused to pay a ransom, the 68-year-old businessman's severed head was discovered on a street on the Philippine island of Jolo, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold...

Inspiring Attacks on Economic Leaders

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is aiming closer to home. On May 14, the group released the 15th issue of Inspire magazine. Like the magazine's previous two issues, the latest edition calls on jihadists who live in the West and operate under a leaderless resistance model to assassinate economic leaders, including policymakers, CEOs and company owners. But while Issue 14 provided instruction on attacking corporate leaders at work in its "Open Source Jihad" feature, Issue 15 offers a tutorial on assassinating business leaders at their residences....

The Meaning of Geography Is Changing, Not Disappearing

By Ian Morris

Like so many of Stratfor's contributors, I spend a lot of time thinking about geography. In my 2010 book Why the West Rules — For Now, I even suggested that geography has been the main force determining the different fates of each part of the planet for the past 20,000 years. The way this works, I argued, was that geography drives social development, determining what it is possible for the members of each society to do, but at the same time social development drives geography, determining what the space around us means....

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