International roundup: 'a Paris Agreement for the ocean.'
The international community: Progressive values take center stage
We’ve reported this before, but in the absence of US leadership on climate policy, businesses are moving forward to adhere to the standards set at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. BHP Billiton, the world’s largest coal miner, is the latest to take action: it has announced it is leaving the World Coal Association (WCA) and is considering leaving the US Chamber of Commerce over disagreement about climate change – BHP believes energy technology should be carbon-neutral; the WCA and US Chamber of Commerce do not.
- BHP, as Reuters reports, “has largely quit mining coal for power plants but is the world’s largest exporter of coal for steel-making.”
- Steel-making, for the record, “is one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases,” according to MIT News.
As businesses like BHP work to transform themselves, the United Nations is preparing to vote on a treaty to protect and regulate the world’s oceans. The treaty, which “could open the way to create a Paris Agreement for the ocean,” according to Maria Damanaki of the Nature Conservancy, will establish conservation areas, catch quotas, and scientific monitoring.
- The US and Russia have not signed the treaty yet but have not opposed it either, leading to hopes that both countries will support the ocean protections.
- “Several major fishing nations,” the Guardian reports, “have been hesitant about signing up.” These include Iceland, Japan, and South Korea, who want to exclude fishing from any agreement.
- China, too, has not yet endorsed the treaty, which is significant, because it has been the most flagrant perpetrator of illegal fishing. Just last week, in fact, the South Korean coast guard had to fire 249 warning shots at a fleet of 44 Chinese fishing vessels illegally fishing in South Korean waters.
- Aggressive actions by Chinese fishermen are in keeping with the spirit of Chinese attitudes toward maritime law and culture: the Chinese navy often intimidates other countries who attempt to protect their territorial waters, and China has been steadily building up its navy and expanding its reach through land reclamation projects in the South China Sea.
And finally: while major telecommunications companies work with the Trump administration to overturn net neutrality rules and enable discriminatory internet pricing schemes, many other countries around the world have spoken out against abolishing net neutrality. Notably, Germany, France, and India have all pledged to continue to uphold net neutrality principles. (A quick editorial: it is baffling that internet service providers feel their responsibility to connect people to the internet extends into controlling the types of content users access on the internet.)
North Korea: The world’s most dangerous game of chicken
Both the UN and the United States imposed new sanctions on North Korea, in what feels like an endless effort to halt the DPRK’s development of its nuclear and missile programs.
- The UN sanctions (drafted by the US), would reduce North Korea’s oil imports by up to 90% and require all North Korean nationals working abroad to return home within 24 months. There would also be a ban on North Korean exports. You can read the official resolution (which also links to the 12 previous resolutions) here.
- Both China and Russia voted for the sanctions, underscoring the concern felt by both countries over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
- Complicating the matter: North Korea is using Soviet designs to develop their missiles, according to the Washington Post. And a South Korean newspaper reported that “Chinese and North Korean vessels had been illicitly linking up at sea to get oil to North Korea.” Although China denies it, they have been known to shirk UN resolutions regarding North Korea in the past. Russian ships have also been accused as recently as Friday of supplying North Korea with oil.
- For its part, North Korea did what it often does: declared the sanctions an ‘act of war.’
- The US sanctions, meanwhile, target two North Korean officials believed to be spearheading Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programs.
- Kim this Reuters exclusive from May observes. Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol are two of Kim Jong Un’s three “rocket stars,” as
Bonus: Another North Korean soldier defected across the border to the south last Thursday.
Japan, meanwhile, announced its intentions to expand its ballistic missile defense capabilities by installing two ground-based Aegis anti-missile batteries.
- The batteries, which are not expected to be operational before 2023, will add an additional layer of missile defense, supplementing their sea-based Aegis missile defense systems.
Elsewhere in Asia:
The United States has increased pressure on Myanmar’s government, which has been involved in a high-profile campaign of ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya minority group.
- One Myanmar general, Maung Maung Soe, has been sanctioned. Soe, according to the US Treasury, “oversaw the military operation in Burma's Rakhine State responsible for widespread human rights abuse against Rohingya civilians.”
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has come out in support of same-sex marriage after previously being against it.
- Duterte vowed to protect LGBT rights and encouraged the country’s LGBT community to nominate a representative to work in his government. The Philippines, a predominantly Roman Catholic country, have yet to legalize same-sex marriages.
The new Cold War: the US and Russia’s complicated, and increasingly strained, relationship
The United States continues to step up pressure on Russia to counter their efforts at destabilizing Europe and the US. Using the Magnitsky Act, the US Treasury announced sanctions against five prominent Russians, including Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya. Kadyrov has been accused by the Treasury of torture and extrajudicial killings of LGBT in Chechnya.
- If the Magnitsky Act sounds familiar, that’s because it was the topic of conversation at that infamous meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya back in June of 2016.
- Trump Jr. thought he was there to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, but Veselnitskaya, who has ties to the Russian government, wanted to talk about the law, which, like NATO, has consistently infuriated Russian president Vladimir Putin.
- Nearly simultaneous to the Treasury’s sanctions, the US announced that it will sell lethal aid to Ukraine as it fights a Russian-supported insurrection in the eastern portion of its country.
- The aid includes Javelin anti-tank missiles, which amount to a direct threat to the Russian tanks and soldiers supporting the Ukrainian rebels.
- The US’s move to arm Ukraine came just days before the chief of the Russian General Staff accused the US of “training former Islamic State fighters in Syria to try and destabilize the country.” As in so many cases, the US and Russia are on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war: Russia supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while the US has supported rebel groups attempting to overthrow him.
Meanwhile, the US Navy has detected an increase in Russian submarine activity around undersea cables that provide internet communications to North America and Europe. Given Russia’s attempts to manipulate democratic elections around the world, such activity is worrying.
- There is precedent here: during the Cold War, the US used its submarines to hack the USSR’s communications cables and mine them for intelligence. In other words: Russia’s using a trick out of our own playbook.
Amidst all this overt and covert hostility, there is also diplomacy: the Kremlin has announced its willingness to act as a mediator between the US and North Korea.
- With the news on Friday that Russian ships are supplying oil to North Korea, breaching UN sanctions in the process, this seems unlikely to happen.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East
As Yemen’s civil war reached its 1,000th day last week, Houthi rebels launched another ballistic missile toward Saudi Arabia, this one targeting Saudi King Salman’s royal palace in Riyadh. The missile, allegedly supplied by Iran, was intercepted before it could strike the palace.
- Fighting in Yemen has intensified following the December 4th killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
- Yemen’s rebel-controlled areas remain under blockade by Saudi Arabia, exacerbating the humanitarian disaster taking shape there.
- Many world leaders have called on the Saudis to lift the blockade, including President Donald Trump.
- Per the United Nations, 17 million Yemenis require immediate humanitarian aid with as many as 7 million on the brink of starvation.
- The Pentagon confirmed that multiple ground operations had been carried out by the US military in Yemen, all aimed at preventing ISIS and Al Qaeda from taking advantage of the lawlessness caused by the civil war to carve out a presence in the country.
On Friday, a gunman killed nine people in two attacks on a Coptic church and a Coptic-owned shop in the Helwan district south of Cairo.
- The attacker also wounded four people, and according to the BBC, could have done a lot more damage: he had “an explosive device, a machine gun and 150 rounds.”
- This account of the attack, provided by Egypt’s Interior Ministry, conflicts an earlier account from witnesses, “who spoke of a higher death toll and more than one attacker.”
- It follows an attack last week, in which dozens of Muslim demonstrators attacked a Coptic church – also south of Cairo – “smashing the windows and breaking everything inside.”
- Coptic Christians make up ten percent of Egypt’s population and have faced frequent discrimination and terror attacks from Islamic extremists in recent decades.
Thousands of Israelis continued their anti-corruption protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently involved in two corruption investigations. In addition to the protests in Tel Aviv, which are entering their fourth week, hundreds attended an anti-corruption protest in Jerusalem.
- Anti-government protests have also broken out in Iran, as the country stages state-sponsored mass rallies in thousands of cities nationwide “to commemorate the end of months of street protests that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election as president.”
- It’s more than a little ironic that the two longtime adversaries are struggling with the same problems.
More bad news for British Prime Minister Theresa May: Damian Green, her First Secretary of State and one of her top Brexit allies, resigned from his post on Wednesday over pornographic material found on his government-issued laptop.
- The images were discovered in 2008, but the investigation only recently wrapped up, with Green admitting he had not been honest about his knowledge of the images.
As Canada prepares to become the biggest country to legalize recreational marijuana, its Federal Statistics Agency released data showing Canadians are already consuming large quantities of cannabis.
- As much as $6.2 billion was spent on marijuana in 2015 in Canada. Compare that to Canadian beer and wine sales which came in at $9.2 billion and $7 billion respectively.
To end on a high note, here’s a remarkable paragraph from an Associated Press report about Liberia’s newly-elected president, George Weah: “Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves, is seeing its first democratic transfer of power in more than 70 years as Noble Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf steps aside. Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, led the country’s recovery after back-to-back civil wars and saw it through a deadly Ebola outbreak.”
header image: "overfished," rob oo / flickr