Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet has drawn up a classified proposal to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China. The draft proposal reportedly calls for the Pacific Fleet to conduct a series of exercises in the coming weeks, involving warships, combat aircraft and troops, to demonstrate that the US can "counter potential adversaries" quickly on several fronts. (CNN) The plans come after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea on Oct. 2. The two vessles came within yards of each other, compelling the US ship to abruptly switch direction. US officials called the Chinese vessel's behavior "unsafe and unprofessional." while Beijing is accusing the US of violating its sovereignty. (WaPo)
In Episode 18 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks back at the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement of the closing years of the Cold War, when the Western Shoshone people, whose traditional lands were being contaminated by the nuclear blasts at the US government's Nevada Test Site, made common cause with the Kazakh people of Central Asia who opposed Soviet nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site. Kazakh activists travelled to Nevada to join protests at the Test Site, while Western Shoshone leaders travelled to Kazakhstan to join protests at Semipalatinsk. This initiative eventually evolved into the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which as recently as 2016 held an International Conference on Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, again attended by Western Shoshone leaders. The story of indigenous peoples impacted by nuclear testing on their usurped lands has come to us from several places around the world, including the French test site at Gerboise Bleue in Algeria—known to the local Tuareg nomads as Tanezrouft. Other examples are the Chinese test site at Lop Nur, on lands of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and British testing on Aboriginal lands at Maralinga, in the Australian outback. The Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement provides an inspiring example of indigenous peoples and their supporters building solidarity across hostile international borders and superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
US President Donald Trump issued an executive order Aug. 6 reimposing certain sanctions against Iran. In a press statement, the White House criticized the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July 2015, signed by Iran, Germany, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the EU. The US withdrew from the JCPOA in May, prompting a legal challenge from Iran before the International Court of Justice. The White House stated that JCPOA "threw a lifeline of cash to a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence, and chaos." The administration claims Iran used monies freed by the JCPOA to fund nuclear-capable missiles, terrorism, and to support the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
In the prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Robert Park, himself a survivor of Kim Jong-un's prisons, called in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post for an amnesty for North Korea's tens of thousands of political prisoners to be a condition of any peace deal. He recalled a 2014 UN report (PDF) finding that up to 120,000 were being held in camps in North Korea, and subjected to "unspeakable atrocities and hardships." Most are held in life-imprisonment slave labor complexes called "absolute control zones" (wanjeontongjekyooyeok or kwanliso). The report found that these prisoners "have no prospect of securing release [and] are subject to gradual extermination through starvation and slave labour…with the apparent intent to extract a maximum of economic benefit at a minimum of cost." Park quoted Thomas Buergenthal, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who served as a judge at the International Court of Justice, who said: "I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps..."
The US Department of the Treasury issued new sanctions against Iran on May 17. The new sanctions target two individuals, Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Abdallah Safi al-Din. Both of them have been identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Bazzi has been identified as a financier for Hezbollah, and Safi al-Din has been identified as Hezbollah's representative to Iran. The Treasury Department stated that the sanctions "show the convergence of Iran's support for terrorism with many facets of illicit criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking." The sanctions come after President Trump's decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal last week and to begin reimposing sanctions against Iran.
President Donald Trump announced April 8 that the US will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 pact under which the US was to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons. The White House statement says the US will re-imposes all sanctions lifted or waived in connection with the JCPOA, including those instated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, and the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act of 2012. The sanctions are expected to go into effect in no later than 180 days.
The de-escalation in the crisis on the Korean peninsula reached a welcome turning point April 21, as the Pyongyang government announced that it will suspend nuclear and missile tests—and shut down the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong. An official statement quoted leader Kim Jong-un saying that North Korea has "verified the completion of nuclear weapons," and now "the Party and our nation will focus all its [sic] efforts towards socialist economic development." He concluded that "the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission." Official media said the statement came at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, convened to discuss policy issues related to a "new stage" in an "historic period." The two Koreas are set to hold a summit meeting next week at the border village of Panmunjom, while Kim is to meet in the coming weeks with US President Donald Trump at a yet-to-be-announced location.
Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)