border conflicts

Syrian Kurds as pawns in Turko-Russian game?

Moscow's military intervention in Syria took a sobering turn this weekend as Turkey scrambled fighter jets, accusing Russian warplanes of violating its air space. Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador over the matter, and NATO condemned the incursions as an "extreme danger." (Al Jazeera, CNN, Daily Sabah) Apart from the obvious dangers to world peace (such as it is), this development holds grim implications for the Syrian Kurds—the most effective military force on the ground against ISIS. Turkey, afraid that a Kurdish autonomous zone on its southern border will inspire its own Kurdish population to rise up, has been cynically labelling the anti-ISIS Syrian Kurds as "terrorists," and seeking to establish a military "buffer zone" in Kurdish territory in norther Syria. Since Turkey and Russia are bitter regional rivals, Moscow's intervention risks drawing the Kurds into the geopolitical game.

World Court may hear Bolivia case on ocean access

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled (PDF) 14-2 Sept. 24 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case between Bolivia and Chile regarding land-locked Bolivia's access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argued to the ICJ that Chile failed in its obligation to negotiate in good faith to grant Bolivia "fully sovereign access" to the Pacific, but Chile filed a preliminary objection that the ICJ had no authority to judge the dispute. The court reached its decision by relying on the Pact of Bogotá, in which Bolivia and Chile both agreed that the ICJ will have jurisdiction over matters regarding breach of an international obligation between American states. The court disagreed with Chile's argument that the dispute was one of territorial sovereignty and held that the subject matter of the dispute was a question of Chile's obligation to negotiate in good faith regarding access to the Pacific, granting the court the possibility of jurisdiction. Since the issue was not already decided by prior arrangement by the parties or by treaty in force at the time of the Pact of Bogotá, the ICJ ruled that it ultimately can hear the case.

New war brewing between Russia and Georgia?

Georgia's Foreign Ministry on Aug. 20 protested a violation of the country's airspace by a Russian military helicopter near the border with the contested South Ossetia enclave. The incursion came as Russia is carrying out military exercises in the border zone, and is accused by Georgia of having unilaterally moved border markers last month. On July 10, Russian troops reportedly placed new demarcation signposts along the de facto boundary between Russian-controlled  South Ossetia, which was separated from Georgia in the 2008 war, and Tbilisi-controlled territory. Critically, the newly seized territory includes a kilometer-long section of the Baku-Supsa pipeline, which brings oil from Azerbaijan to BP's Supsa terminal in Georgia. Russia is among a handful of countries that have recognized the "independence" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both of the breakaway regions rely heavily on military and financial aid from Russia, which does not allow European Union monitors to access either enclave. (InterFax, Aug. 20; RFE/RL, Aug. 19; BBC News, Aug. 10)

Protests as Japan moves toward remilitarization

Japan's lower house on July 16 approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation's Self-Defense Forces in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's ruling LDP-led bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests. Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Abe cited China's growing military presence in the region in support of the legislation. The bills were drafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution. Opponents counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional. A criticism of the reform is that it is unclear what the new legislation actually does, but it is clearly intended to permit Japanese troops to be deployed on combat missions for the first time since the end of World War II. The package will now be passed on to the upper house of the Diet, and could be approved as early as next week.

Vietnam tilts to US in Pacific 'Great Game'

Here's another one to file under "Life's little ironies." Vietnam's Communist Party boss Nguyen Phu Trong (the country's "paramount leader") meets with Obama at the White House—a first, coming exactly 20 years after US-Hanoi diplomatic relations were restored. Why now? The Washington Post flatly states that Obama "is seeking to reconfigure a historically difficult relationship with Vietnam into a strategic partnership against China." White House officials "said Hanoi has been signaling interest in forging deeper economic and military ties with the United States," and also emphasized that Vietnam "is among the 12 nations involved in an expansive Pacific Rim trade pact." That's the Trans-Pacific Partnership—which is nearly openly conceived as a counter-measure to China's economic rise.

Arunachal Pradesh: pawn in the new Great Game

Last month's US-India nuclear deal obviously signaled a rise in Sino-Indian tensions, seen by Beijing (accurately) as part of an encirclement strategy. The deal called for inclusion of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which drew immediate criticism from China. The NSG is comprised of 46 nuclear supplier states, including China, Russia and the US, that have agreed to coordinate export controls on civilian nuclear material to non-nuclear-weapon states. The group has up to now been made up of signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—which, as China was quck to note, does not include India (or Pakistan, or the "secret" nuclear nation Israel). More to the point, India is not a "non-nuclear-weapon state." (The Diplomat, Feb. 14; Arms Control Association)

Great Game for Arctic in Ukraine struggle?

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Western allies charge that Moscow has sent at least 1,000 regular army troops into the two easternmost oblasts of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, to back up the separatist rebels there. Russia's President Vladimir Putin responds with an outburst of presumably unintentional irony. He compared Kiev's encirclement of rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk to the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad in which 1 million civilians died. Speaking at a pro-Kremlin rally at a lakeside youth camp, he also told supporters—some waving banners bearing his face—that Russia remains a strong nuclear power and therefore "it's best not to mess with us." He added that Russians and Ukrainians "are practically one people"—recalling his recent references to the disputed areas of southeastern Ukraine as "Novorossiya." So, let's get this straight... he accuses his enemies of being like the Nazis while enouraging a fascistic personality cult around his own leadership, while making claims to the territory of a neighboring country on ethno-nationalist grounds, and while threatening use of nuclear weapons. This is another example of what we call the Paradoxical Anti-Fascist Rhetoric of Contemporary Crypto-Fascism. Although in Putin's case, it is barely crypto.

Gaza: a war for oil?

Well, we don't think so either, actually. But Revolution News brings some interesting facts to light in a piece entitled "Bombing for Oil: Gaza, Israel and the Levant Basin." It seems that in 1999, British Gas Group (BG) and Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) signed a 25-year agreement with the Palestinian Authority for offshore rights on the Gaza coast. In 2000, as drilling began, BG and CCC found gas (not oil) fields, dubbed Gaza Marine 1 and Gaza Marine 2. The companies were granted a 90% ownership of any reserves (60% and 30% respectively for BG and CCC), with a 10% share for the Palestinians. Gaza Marine 1 is entirely located in "Palestinian territorial waters," with reserves estimated at 28 billion cubic meters. Gaza Marine 2, or the "Gaza Border Field" straddles the maritime border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, with an estimated 3 billion cubic meters.

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