This Week in the World | 9.17.17
This Week In The World
In keeping with our mission of making Temple a more globally-conscious campus, Freely Magazine will post a global news update each week, covering the week’s biggest stories from all around the world. Be sure to check out our website each Sunday for your weekly dose of global news!
The Refugee Crisis in South Sudan
The conflict between government forces and rebel forces in South Sudan has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people. More than a million people have fled the country, and a third of the country’s 12 million population has been displaced, making it the biggest refugee crisis in Africa, since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, after fighting a 22-year civil war for independence from Sudan. After gaining independence, The Sudanese People Liberation Movement took power. 18 months later, ethnic tensions rose among its army. President Salva Kiir, of the Dinka ethnic group, faced a leadership rival in Riek Machar, his deputy, and a Nuer. Since 2013, troops under the ex-vice president, and fighters loyal to President Salva Kiir have fought each other. Last year, the war spread and drew in other ethnic groups in the south and western South Sudan.
Human rights groups have found both sides guilty of war crimes, though the majority of the crimes appear to have been carried out by Kiir’s forces, who attacked shopkeepers, farmers, market traders, villages, and fleeing women.
South Sudan is currently one of the world’s most dangerous places for aid workers. According to the United Nations, the situation is worsening, and it complicates efforts to reach an estimated 6 million people who are severely food insecure. At least 84 aid workers, mostly local workers, have been killed since 2013, and that includes about 17 this year. Many of the civilians who escaped the conflict by seeking refuge in neighboring Uganda are experiencing new challenges there as well. Aid agencies say they do not have the funds to properly support the recently arrived Sudanese refugees.
As stated by the head of the United Nation missions, the splits in South Sudan’s rebellion has made it harder to implement a peace deal. Over the past year, new armed groups in the southern Equatoria region have created more challenges for mediators.
Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar
In Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma, intense clashes between military forces and Rohingya militants have left villages burned to the ground, and hundreds dead.
The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, have lived as a people of Myanmar for centuries. More than a million of them live in the country, and they make up about a third of the population of the western coastal state of Rakhine, which doesn’t recognize their native language. The Myanmar government has refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. They claim that they are either Bangladeshi or Bengali. Human rights groups and the United Nations have long accused the Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing through its repressive policies and laws.
Rohingya aren’t found anywhere on the national list of 135 ethnicities recognized in Myanmar. In addition to a complete lack of recognition and unequal access to resources, they are not allowed to leave their settlements without government approval. Many live in impoverished camps or settlements for internally displaced civilians.
According to the New York Times, about 400,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since the conflict began in August, and at least 30% of Rohingya villages in Rakhine state are now empty. UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the situation as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Myanmar army denies targeting civilians and claims to be fighting militants.
Satellite images of Myanmar village burning were released by the human rights group, Amnesty International. Amnesty claims that these images show an “orchestrated campaign” to burn Rohingya villages in western Myanmar, and also that the images are evidence that military forces were trying to push the minority Muslim group out of the country.
Many have called for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the face of the civilian government, to condemn the treatment of the Rohingya people. She has been criticized for her silence, and many have asked that she be stripped of her peace prize. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday, in London, said Myanmar’s democracy was facing a “defining moment,” and stressed how important it is for “the global community to speak out in support of what we all know the expectation is for the treatment of people regardless of their ethnicity. This violence must stop, this persecution must stop.”
Though the military of Myanmar has constitutional power over its budget and thus can act independent of federal mandates, many have argued that Suu Kyi’s refusal to speak out is reprehensible, as were her statements earlier in the month that there was an “iceberg of misinformation” surrounding the violence in Rakhine. Still, Suu Kyi has agreed to commission a committee of experts to investigate the violence, led by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Because it’s an election year and a majority of non-Rohingya civilians in Myanmar are not particularly concerned with the violence in Rakhine, some analysts have posited that it would be politically risky for Suu Kyi to take a strong stance against the military. As foreign pressure builds though, her relative inaction may become her undoing.
NATO Unnerved By Zapad 2017
Zapad-2017, a large-scale joint military exercise by Russia and Belarus has made nearby NATO countries nervous. According to Russia’s defense ministry, about 12,700 troops are participating in the military exercise which involves firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, armored units, warships, and aircraft, making it one of Russia’s biggest military exercise since the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
NATO officials report that the exercise was already being carried out, before the official start date, and the troops of roughly 100,000 were larger than the number reported by Russia. As stated by NATO, the drills will stimulate a conflict with the US-led alliance intended to show Russia’s ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict. They fear that Moscow may be testing its ability to wage war against the West.
President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine warned that Zapad-2017 could be a precursor to an invasion of Ukraine. Security on the Ukraine border has been tightened. Lithuania’s Defense Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, fears the drill could trigger an accidental conflict and allow Moscow to leave its troops in neighboring Belarus. The head of the US Army in Europe, General Ben Hodge, and some Western officials have voiced concerns that Russia might use the drills as a “Trojan horse” to invade Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.
Following Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its intervention in the Syrian war in 2015, NATO does not trust their public message. The US military moved 600 paratroopers to the Baltics during Zapad and took guard of the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as a safety measure.
The German federal election, set to take place on September 24th, is almost certainly going to result in the election of Angela Merkel, who will serve her fourth term as Chancellor of Germany. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU), which has been in power since 2005, has branded itself as pro-European Union integration, and was the driving force behind Germany’s controversial decision to grant entrance to more than a million refugees. Many in Germany see Merkel, who is the first woman to lead a major party in Germany, as a stabilizing and moderate leader. However, polls currently show that Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) will fail to secure a majority in Parliament. Still, the CDU is expected to receive 38.6% of the vote, followed by the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) with 23.4% of the vote. The Alternatives for Germany party, a far-right party that has seen an increase in support as of late, is expected to receive about 10% of the vote, placing it as the third most popular party, but trailing significantly behind the CDU and SPD.
So what does a re-election of Merkel and a continued Christian Democratic Party influence mean for Germany and the world? Though the CDU is considered a conservative party in Germany, Merkel’s centrist approach, and continued calls for unity, suggest a continuation of left-right solidarity. During a speech on September 9th in Kuhlungsborn, Merkel’s vision was clearly articulated: free market economics with government redistribution to combat inequality, a strong state that does not go so far as to boss its people around, the continued integration of refugees and a commitment to diversity. She once even described herself as “a bit liberal, a bit Christian-social, [and] a bit conservative.” Indeed her pragmatic and measured approach is supported by a majority of the German public; Merkel has an approval rating of around 60%, according to a poll for public broadcaster ARD. An election of Merkel would thus continue Germany’s programmatic, calculated, and reactive approach to global politics. But, since Merkel’s party will not secure a majority, the next few years in Germany will be determined by which other party the CDU forms a coalition with. This might mean a more liberal approach if the CDU partners with the progressive SPD, or a more conservative approach if the CDU forms a coalition with the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), or a more free market approach if it partners with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
With Germany’s supreme influence in EU policy, and its growing influence in North Africa through its refugee resettlement program, the election, and the resulting coalition movements, will have a considerable impact on global politics and economics, but it seems that Germany’s centrist approach will continue.
The Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School announced this week that the controversial public figure and ex-soldier accused of leaking top-secret documents, Chelsea Manning, would be offered a fellowship at the university this fall. Less than two days later, the university revoked the invitation, citing unforeseen controversy. Manning, who served seven years in a military prison, was originally sentenced to thirty-five years but her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, a decision that many on the right found extremely controversial. Harvard’s decision to revoke the invitation was partially the result of the resignation of Michael Morell, who was a senior fellow at Harvard and previously served as the acting director of the CIA, the American organization that processes and analyzes national security intelligence. On Thursday, the dean of the Kennedy School of Government, Douglas Elmendorf, released the following statement: “We are withdrawing the invitation to her to serve as a Visiting Fellow — and the perceived honor that it implies to some people — while maintaining the invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the Forum. I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation.”
Chelsea Manning, who is also transgender, has been met with praise and condemnation from all around the world. The documents she released, though classified, exposed war crimes and human rights violations, and eventually led to the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Manning once described the documents as indicative of “how the first world exploits the third world.” Manning has received international support, including the support of Amnesty International, but has also been criticized by many top officials in the American security community for potentially endangering American lives by releasing classified information.
South and Central America
Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Caribbean islands last week, with wind gusts reaching over 185 miles per hours. It left thousands of people homeless in the 13 islands that were in its path, destroyed buildings, and left many without running water and electricity. France’s public insurance agency estimates that it will cost around $1.4 billion to address the damage on St. Barthelemy and the French half of St. Martin. According to some reports, more than two-thirds of the structures on St. Martin were damaged or destroyed. The Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology estimates that it will cost nearly $13 billion to repair all the damage in the Caribbean. While Irma was one of the largest hurricanes to strike many of the islands that were in its path, experts warn that global warming and rising sea levels will continue to increase the intensity of hurricanes. With relatively less infrastructure and economies dependent on tourism, more hurricanes could pose a serious threat to the economies in the Caribbean in the years to come. While most of the countries in the Caribbean have relatively high per capita GDPs, most have high levels of public debt, which makes it difficult to recover after large-scale natural disasters.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was once a vicious guerrilla army, accused of killing, raping, and kidnapping thousands of Colombians with territorial control of about a third of the country. In 2016, after years of fighting the FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for finally working out a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC, ending decades of violence. However, the deal came with a few caveats, namely that FARC members would be granted amnesty and could run for office. Now, taking full advantage of the peace deal conditions, the FARC has launched a political party, aptly named the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC).
The FARC has maintained its leftist political agenda, promising health care and job security, while also trying to come across as less militaristic. In fact, FARC president Rodrigo Londono said at a speech last week that the campaign would be run “without dogmatism or sectarianism, far from ideological ostentation.” Though the party will not put a candidate up for president in the upcoming elections, it will seek a share of the power in Congress. The fledgling party will be faced with a series of challenges, as it tries to rebrand from its violent history to a peaceful and progressive political party. Congressional elections in Colombia will be held in 2018, which will be the FARC’s first test as a political party.