East Asia
Hwasong

North Korea law authorizes pre-emptive nuclear strikes

North Korea passed a law enshrining its right to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes. According to the official Korea Central New Agency (KCNA), the law states that “if the command and control system of the national nuclear force is in danger of being attacked by hostile forces, the nuclear strike will be carried out automatically and immediately.” The KCNA added that “by promulgating a law on a policy of the nuclear forces, our country’s status as a nuclear-weapons state has become irreversible.” The new law replaces a 2013 law that allowed for the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation only. (Photo: MissileThreat)

Europe
Ukraine

North Korea recognizes Donetsk and Luhansk ‘republics’

North Korea’s government recognized two breakaway states claiming independence from internationally-recognized Ukrainian territory. North Korea is the third country to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics,” after Russia and Syria. Two days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Moscow recognized the “republics,” and moved troops to the regions. Since Russia’s invasion, North Korea has defended Russia and has blamed the crisis on “the hegemonic policy of the US.” Ukraine cut diplomatic ties with North Korea immediately after the recognition. (Map: PCL)

The Andes
Partnership of the Americas 2009

Colombia joins ‘new partnership’ with NATO

President Joe Biden issued an executive order designating Colombia a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) of the United States. The designation facilitates further weapons transfers from the US to Colombia, and increased military cooperation between the two countries. Colombia is the third MNNA in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina. Weeks earlier, a delegation of NATO staff visited Colombia to discuss the South American country’s participation in the alliance’s Defense Education Enhancement Program (DEEP). Colombia became NATO’s newest “global partner” in 2018, but this relationship was reinforced last December, when it became a member of the NATO Individually Tailored Partnership Program (ITPP). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

East Asia
Tiananmen

‘Great Leap Backward’ for press freedom in China

Reporters Without Borders issued a new report, The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, revealing the extent of the regime’s campaign of repression against the right to information. At least 127 journalists (professional and non-professional) are currently detained by the regime. Simply reporting on a “sensitive” topic or publishing censored information can result in years of detention. The report especially examines the deterioration of press freedom in Hong Kong, which was once a world model but has now seen an increasing number of journalists arrested and prosecuted in the name of “national security.” (Photo: chinaworker.info)

East Asia
kurils

Podcast: 007 in the New Cold War

In Episode 97 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg dissects the geopolitics of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, and how the Daniel Craig reboot of the series has finessed the cultural icon’s role in the New Cold War. Famously, the film was produced pre-pandemic, with its release postponed a year due to the lockdown—and its key plot device is a mass biological warfare attack, anticipating the conspiranoid theories about COVID-19. Yet it could also be prescient in warning of a superpower confrontation over the Kuril Islands—disputed by Russia and Japan, and an all too likely flashpoint for global conflict. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map: International Kuril Island Project)

Planet Watch
United Nations

Treaty on prohibition of nuclear arms takes force

The first nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades has come into force, following its 50th ratification last October, which triggered the 90-day period required before the treaty entered into effect. The UN completed negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at its New York headquarters in July 2017. The treaty constitutes “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination.” However, the US and the world’s eight other nuclear powers—Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel—have not signed the treaty. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Caribbean
havana

US returns Cuba to ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ list

The US Department of State has once again designated Cuba as a state that sponsors terrorism. In 2015, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which currently includes North Korea, Iran and Syria. In a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State Department accused Cuba of “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.” Ironically, this is a reference to Havana’s hosting of peace delegations from Colombian guerilla groups in their efforts to broker an accord with Bogotá over the past six years. (Photo: Falkanpost/Pixabay)

Watching the Shadows
Xinjiang

China elected to UN rights council: Orwellian irony

In another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit, the UN General Assembly elected China to the Human Rights Council—despite the country holding some one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. The General Assembly also elected Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Pakistan—all similarly accused of human rights violations, if not quite such ambitious ones. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with “abhorrent human rights records.” A week before the General Assembly vote, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun read a statement before the body, denouncing the US for “systematic racial discrimination and violence,” which was endorsed by 25 other nations—including Russia, Iran and North Korea. Of course the perverse irony of this is that Pompeo and Zhang are both correct. And therefore neither has any moral credibility to criticize the other. (Photo: Xinjiang Judicial Administration via The Diplomat)

Planet Watch
Ghana soldiers

Growing police-state measures in face of COVID-19

As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Police have opened fire on lockdown violators in Nigeria, Ghana and Peru. In Tunisia, remote-controlled wheeled robots have been deployed to accost lockdown violators. States of emergency, including broad powers to restrict movements and control the media, have been declared from the Philippines to Serbia. Amnesty International warns that the restrictive measures could become a “new normal.” (Photo: Pulse, Ghana)

Planet Watch
#QuedeteEnCasa

Worldwide police-state measures in face of COVID-19

With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary’s parliament voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree. The Russian parliament has approved an “anti-virus” package that includes up to seven years imprisonment for serious violations of quarantine rules. Israel has joined South Korea in authorizing use of personal cellphone data to track the virus. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has declared a “state of catastrophe,” sending the military to public squares recently occupied by protesters. Military patrols are also enforcing the lockdown in Peru, Italy, Romania and South Africa. “We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close on the heels of a health epidemic,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. (Photo: Peruvian army demonstration video, via YouTube)

North America
travel ban

Court hears arguments on Trump’s travel ban

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit began hearing oral arguments in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration’s travel bans. The plaintiffs argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their case is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban, while the administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation. (Photo: Syria Solidarity NYC)

The Andes
lithium fields

Bolivia: lithium interests at play in Evo’s ouster?

Bolivia’s government issued a decree cancelling a massive joint lithium project with German multinational ACI Systems Alemania—just days before the ouster of President Evo Morales. The move came in response to protests by residents in the southern department of PotosĂ­, where the lithium-rich salt-flats are located. PotosĂ­ governor Juan Carlos Cejas reacted to the cancellation by blaming the protests on “agitators” seeking to undermine development in the region. Plans for lithium exploitation were first announced over a decade ago, but have seen little progress—in large part due to the opposition of local communities, who fear the region’s scarce water resources will be threatened by mining. (Photo: Wikipedia)