Assad regime and Russian warplanes resumed their bombardment of Aleppo Nov. 15 after the "humanitarian pause" announced last month. Damascus state TV boasted of "precision weapons to target terrorist positions," of course. Activists on the ground report an assault of unprecedented intensity, with bombs falling virtually constantly. The assault had been threatened in mass text messages sent to residents of rebel-held east Aleppo by the regime, instructing them to leave within 24 hours. The campaign of targeting hospitals has resumed, and eastern Aleppo is now without a single hospital operating at full capacity, the Syrian American Medical Society reports. One of those struck this week was a children's hospital, forcing staff to evacuate babies to safety. (EA Worldview, CNN, Nov. 19; CNN, Nov. 15)
It's clear that President Obama had set a goal to take both Mosul and Raqqa from ISIS before leaving office, and bequeath these victories to his successor Hillary Clinton. But both of these battles hold the potential both for humanitarian disaster and a violent aftermath as Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites contend for liberated territory. Now all this will instead be bequeathed to Donald Trump—with no savvy about the region, and a blatant appetite for destruction. This dramatically escalates the potential for disaster. It is pretty clear Trump intends to divide Syria with Putin the way Hitler divided Poland with Stalin. The US will take Raqqa and the east; Russia will establish a reduced Assad state as a protectorate around Damascus and Latakia in the west. Whether the US will be able to control its sphere amid social collapse and sectarian maelstrom is another matter.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The Guardian, Al Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)
The UN on Oct. 27 adopted a resolution—hailed by disarmament campaigners as an important landmark—to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. The resolution was approved at a meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters. A total of 123 nations voted in favor of the resolution, with 38 voting against and 16 abstaining. The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a "legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination." Among the 57 co-sponsors of the resolution, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa took the lead.
The US on Oct. 4 announced it is suspending talks with Russia over the Syria war, citing the Kremlin's support of the Bashar Assad regime in the brutal bombing campaign on the besieged city of Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry days later called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime. Despite the seeming lack of anyone left to negotiative with, he still insisted: "We aren't going to leave the multilateral field, we are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war." (Jurist, Oct. 7; NYT, Fox News, Oct. 4) All indications point to further escalation. Moscow's Defense Ministry cautioned the US against carrying out air-strikes on Assad's forces, darkly adding that Russia now has air-defense missiles operational in Syria. Russia has just installed S-400 and S-300 air-defense systems at the Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air-base in the Assad regime's coastal stronghold of Latakia. The radius of the weapons reach may be "a surprise," the Defense Ministry's Gen. Igor Konashenkov boasted. (RT, Oct. 6; BBC, Oct. 4)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Oct. 5 refused (PDF) to hear a claim by the Marshall Islands that the UK, India and Pakistan have failed to halt the nuclear arms race, finding that it does not have jurisdiction over the matter. The Marshall Islands was the site for numerous nuclear tests carried out by the US during the Cold War arms race, and claims that such experience allows it to testify on the danger of a nuclear arms race. The nation accused nine countries of not complying with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation (PDF). However, the ICJ can only consider the cases for Britain, India and Pakistan, as China, France, Israel, North Korea, Russia and the US have not recognized the court's jurisdiction. The Marshall Islands claims that these countries have breached their obligations under the treaty, which commits all states with nuclear capabilities "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."
The US Aegis anti-missile station at Deveselu, Romania, was officially activated this week—to harsh protests from Moscow, despite Washington's claim that the system is intended to intercept missiles fired from the Middle East. Together with an installation in Poland, the Deveselu facility forms the long-delayed "missile shield" first conceived under the George Bush administration. (BBC News, AFP, RT, May 12) Moscow's claim that the "missile shield" is actually aimed at encircling Russia is mirrored by Washington's charge that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, having deployed cruise missiles in contravention of the 1987 pact. (Arms Control Association, May 2016)
The failed test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on North Korea's so-called "Day of the Sun" (April 15, the birthday of Kim Il-sung) only succeeded in winning rebukes from China—the DPRK regime's only, increasingly embarassed ally. China's official Xinhua news agency said that the test "marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere... Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy."