The de-escalation in the crisis on the Korean peninsula reached a welcome turning point April 21, as the Pyongyang government announced that it will suspend nuclear and missile tests—and shut down the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong. An official statement quoted leader Kim Jong-un saying that North Korea has "verified the completion of nuclear weapons," and now "the Party and our nation will focus all its [sic] efforts towards socialist economic development." He concluded that "the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission." Official media said the statement came at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, convened to discuss policy issues related to a "new stage" in an "historic period." The two Koreas are set to hold a summit meeting next week at the border village of Panmunjom, while Kim is to meet in the coming weeks with US President Donald Trump at a yet-to-be-announced location.
Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)
From anonymous radical-right xenophobes in Britain came the call to make April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." Letters were sent through the mail to addresses across England, calling for violent attacks on Muslims. The sick mailings assigned a point score for levels of violence from "Verbally abuse a Muslim" (10 points) to "Beat up a Muslim" (100 points) to "Burn or bomb a mosque" (1,000 points) to "Nuke Mecca" (2,500 points) Police were on alert, and women who wear the hijab were advised to stay home. No actual attacks were reported. There were also reports that some of the letters had arrived at New York addresses, causing the city's Muslim community to mobilize and the NYPD to beef up security. (BBC News, WPIX) The Daily News reports that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined multi-faith leaders at a press conference to condemn the threats. His comments there were laudable in intent, but revealing in their wording: "Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, let's embrace a Muslim, let's embrace a Christian, let's embrace a person of Jewish faith, let's embrace the diversity that this city has to offer."
In Episode Three of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg expounds on the concept of the countervortex. Making note of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' decision to advance the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight, he discusses the current global dilemma in light of EP Thompson's 1980 essay Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilization, and Rosa Luxemburg's positing of humanity's imminent future as either "socialism or barbarism." What are the prospects for resisting the global vortex of ecological collapse, totalitarianism and permanent war in the age of Trump and Putin? This is a question that goes beyond the personalities involved, and requires a profound critique of the underlying political economy that elevates such pathological personalities to the highest levels of power. You can listen on SoundCloud, and support our ongoing podcast via Patreon.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 25 advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said in a statement. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions."
Palestinian activists burned pictures of Donald Trump in Bethlehem in response to his Dec. 6 announcement that his administration will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He stated with typical bluster: "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering." But this time the braggadocio was wedded to a nearly hallucinatory chutzpah: "I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians." (Palestine News Network, The Guardian) Of course precisely the opposite is true.
Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido seems, unfortunately, poised to jump into the headlines as East Asia's next flashpoint for Great Power confrontation. When North Korea fired a missile over Japan last month, it was this northern island that the rocket passed over. Buried deep in the New York Times account of the incident is the fact that in addition to the routine annual US-South Korean military exercises then underway along the DMZ, "The United States has also been conducting joint exercises with Japanese forces for the past two weeks." And specifically (the Times didn't note) on Hokkaido. The Diplomat informs us that the exercises were dubbed Northern Viper and involved Japan Self-Defense Forces troops and US Marines operating out of Misawa Air Base, the northernmost US base in Japan, just across Tsugaru Strait from Hokkaido on the northern tip of Honshu. The USMC boasts that the exercises were unprecedented, marking the first joint US-Japanese maneuvers on Hokkaido.
With North Korea's apparent testing of its first (or perhaps second) hydrogen bomb yesterday, the White House is again warning of a "massive military response." Last week, North Korea for the first time fired a missile over Japanese land territory, specifically the northern island of Hokkaido, and last month for the first time tested an apparent intercontinental ballistic missile. (NYT, NYT, AP) Pyongyang's threat to launch missiles toward Guam put the unincorporated US island territory briefly in the news—although the actual threat was to fire into waters some 40 kilometers off Guam. (AP) Pyongyang has threatened to strike Guam before, but now looks as if it may be developing the capability to make good on its threat. Amid all the hype, just a few stories have made note of how Guamians themselves are reacting to all this. And growing sentiment on the island holds that the only thing they are getting out of their current US territorial status is being made a nuclear target.