Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on Aug. 27, the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting in Geneva. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons.
In Episode 14 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the national protest wave that brought down president Park Geun-Hye in South Korea in December 2016, and asks why Americans can't similarly rise to the occassion and launch a mass militant movement to remove Donald Trump. Given this extreme emergency—the detention gulag now coming into place, with undocumented migrants the "test population" for domestic fascism—we should be mobilizing in our millions. Apart from the broad masses being simply too distracted by gizmos and consumerism to see the walls closing in (a problem to be discussed elsewhere), Weinberg identifies two significant obstacles to unity: 1. The fundamental split in the left over the whole question of Russia and its electoral meddling; and 2. The phenomenon of party parasitism, with both the Democrats and sectarian-left factions seeking to exploit popular movements to advance their own power. He concludes by asking whether social media, which is partially responsible for getting us into this mess through its totalizing propaganda environment, can help get us out—whether it can empower us to sidestep the Dems and the alphabet-soup factions alike and work rapidly and efficiently to build a leaderless, broad-based, intransigent movement around the aim of removing Trump. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The US Supreme Court on June 26 ruled 5-to-4 (PDF) in Trump v. Hawaii that President Donald Trump's proclamation restricting entry from particular Muslim-majority countries was "squarely within the scope of presidential authority" under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The court also found that plaintiffs challenging the proclamation were unlikely to succeed on their claim that the ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority: "[T]he Government has set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review. We express no view on the soundness of the policy. We simply hold today that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim." The ruling overturns a preliminary injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in December, which blocked the policy from taking effect. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts for "further proceedings."
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.
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.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 25 advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said in a statement. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions."
The swearing in of Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is being hailed as opening a new era for the country that had been ruled by Robert Mugabe from independence in 1980 until his dramatic downfall this week. But Mnangagwa had long been Mugabe's right-hand man, and in his inaugural speech paid tribute to him as a "mentor" and Zimbabwe's "founding father." Mnangagwa is known by the nickname "Ngwena" (Crocodile)—apparently a reference to his days as a commando in the Crocodile Group, an elite Chinese-trained guerilla unit that carried out acts of sabotage in the struggle against colonial and white supremacist rule in the 1960s. (BBC News, CNN, VOA) But some are pointing to Mnangagwa's reputation for ruthlessness even after the country's liberation from white rule, and are demanding accountability over his role in ethnic massacres in the 1980s.