The Kurdish question in northern Syria has really put US imperialism in a bind—its most effective anti-ISIS allies on the ground are the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), regarded as "terrorists" by longtime NATO ally Turkey. We've been wondering if the US would dump the SDF in deference to Turkey after they had succeeded in taking Raqqa from ISIS, or continue to groom them as a proxy force to carve out an influence sphere in Syria's north—thereby risking its alliance with Turkey. Washington has been tilting first one way, then the other. Just weeks ago, the White House announced it would be demanding back the weapons it has supplied to the SDF to fight ISIS. Now comes the news that the Pentagon intends to train SDF fighters as a special force to control the northern border zone.
Well, we hate to say "We told you so," but... We told you so. We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, that thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production, the price was now immune to Middle East instability, dramatic spikes and "oil shocks" forever banished. Well, futures for Brent crude just hit $63.37 per barrel, with the spot price for West Texas Intermediate at $57.34. (Panorama.am, Investing.com) Creeping toward the $100 per barrel we were so recently assured was a thing of the past. OilPrice.com blames Trump's announcement that the US will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which has of course unleashed unrest in the Palestinian territories and instability fears across the Middle East. But the jump really began almost exactly a month ago, seemingly prompted by the leadership purge in Saudi Arabia. That brought the Brent crude price up to $62, its highest level since July 2015. (The Guardian, Nov. 6)
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled (PDF) Sept. 23 in favor of Ghana in a lengthy maritime dispute with Ivory Coast. The case, which was brought to the international body by Ghana in 2014, was an attempt to clarify the boundary between the two countries, as both countries were vying for oil in the contested area. The court unanimously ruled in favor of Ghana, dismissing the claim that Ghana violated the territorial rights of Ivory Coast when it expanded its oil exploration in the area. The ruling definitively creates a boundary, in the form of a straight line running from the land boarder of the two nations. The ruling came in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
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.
Tens of thousands of Argentines held protests across the country Sept. 1, demanding answers one month after the disappearance of an indigenous rights activist. Demonstrators held photos of Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen when border police evicted a group of indigenous Mapuche from lands in the southern Patagonia region owned by Italian clothing company Benetton. In Buenos Aires, protesters converged on the Plaza de Mayo, iconic for its role in the struggle to demand justice for the "disappeared" under the military dictatorship. The Buenos Aires march ended in running street battles with the riot police.
Satellite data released by Human Rights Watch shows widespread fires burning in at least 10 areas of Burma's Rakhine state, following a new military offensive targeting the country's Rohingya people. Burmese authorities say some 100 have been killed since Aug. 25, when supposed militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched pre-dawn raids on police outposts. The army has responded with a massive operation to encircle the Rohingya rebels and block their escape into Bangladesh. But troops are accused of putting whole villages to the torch and carrying out extrajudicial killings. More than 8,700 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since since the offensive was launched, but at least 4,000 more are stranded in the no man's land between the two countries near Taung Bro village. Temporary shelters now fill a narrow strip between the Naf River and Burma's border fence.
A stand-off opened this week in the Himalayas as Indian troops confronted Chinese military forces building a road through the disputed Doklam plateau, with each side accusing the other of crossing into its territory. The Doklam (Chinese: Donglang) plateau lies where the borders of India's Sikkim sector and China's Tibet Autonomous Region converge with that of the small independent kingdom of Bhutan—which is being drawn into the conflict between the nuclear-armed Asian giants. Bhutan issued its own complaint over the enroachment of Chinese troops on its territory. But having no direct relations with Beijing, Bhutan lodged the complaint via India's diplomatic corps. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by implying that India has a "hidden agenda" in the matter and is manipulating Bhutan.
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has temporarily halted decisions regarding a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia until it can establish who has jurisdiction over them. The Egyptian government agreed to transfer the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, in April 2016, based on the belief that they had always belonged to Saudi Arabia. In June 2016 the transfer was invalidated by a lower court in Cairo, but that decision was overturned by another court. Egypt's parliament last week agreed to go through with the plan despite public protests. Both the Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands, which have been under Egyptian protection since 1950, are Saudi territory. The protesters, however, assert that Egypt's sovereignty over the islands was established before Saudi Arabia was founded.