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)
The State of Palestine asserted in an application (PDF) submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Sept. 28 that the recent relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem constitutes a breach of international diplomatic law. In support of its claim, Palestine directed the ICJ to multiple UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions affirming the special international regime that applies to Jerusalem and calling on member states to refrain from recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli territory. Palestine argued that establishment of an embassy to Israel in Jerusalem violates provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (PDF) governing activities in the "receiving state."
The US government has reinforced counter-terrorism controls on aid operations in Syria. New contractual terms require US-funded organizations to get special permission to provide relief in areas controlled by extremist groups. The move further complicates aid operations for those trapped in Syria’s last rebel stronghold, Idlib, where two thirds of its three million people need assistance. The top UN official for the Syrian humanitarian crisis, Panos Moumtzis, told IRIN news agency that donors were, in general, backing away from funding all but the most critical needs in Idlib, fearing aid will fall into the hands of groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliate Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
Some 50,000 to 60,000 people fleeing war and persecution will start a new life and be on track for a new passport in 2018, but it will be the fewest number of refugees resettled globally any year since 2007, UN figures show. The drop is mainly due to President Donald Trump’s administration slashing the US quota. The United States took in 68% of the 770,000 refugees permanently resettled in the last 10 years, according to the UN—an average of about 51,000 per year. But this calendar year, fewer than 10,000 had made the journey to the United States by the end of July. Developing regions host 85% of the world’s refugees, according to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.
The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement Aug. 30 explaining its unprecedented build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean as part of a week-long exercise. It said the maneuvers would involve 26 warships and naval vessels, including two submarines, with 34 aircraft, including missile-armed long-range bombers. (Jane's 360) But it is obvious that this build-up is timed to coincide (at least) with the planned Assad regime offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains under opposition control. Russia will certainly be massively backing the regime offensive, which the UN warns could spark a humanitarian catastrophe. With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear that civilians have any place left to flee. Many are already living in camps in Idlib under desperate conditions, with two million in need of humanitarian aid. (AP, SBS)
The Trump administration is to announce a suspension of funding to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA)—and rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. According to Hebrew-language news outlets, the US administration is expected to announce its new policy early September, recognizing the existence of only half a million Palestinian refugees, out of the total of 5.3 million estimated by UNRWA. The US administration intends to form a plan that rejects the United Nations designation under which millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. Sources reported that the administration's new policy would "essentially cancel the right of return."
US President Donald Trump announced Aug. 27 that the US and Mexico have reached an agreement on a new trade deal called the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, which will ultimately terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While sitting at the resolute desk, Trump called Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to announce the new pact, which Trump described as "a really good deal for both countries [and] something that is very special for our manufacturers and farmers." Among a number of changes to NAFTA, both parties agreed to a provision that would require a significant portion of vehicles to be made in high-wage factories, a measure aimed to discourage factory jobs from leaving the US. Peña Nieto agreed with Trump while on speaker phone, stating, "I think this is something very positive for the United States and Mexico." The Mexican president further stated that he wanted Canada to be involved in the agreement.
The US on Aug. 6 harshly condemned the Syrian regime over thousands of death notices it has released in recent weeks, saying they confirm suspicions of mass detentions, torture and murder. State Department representative Heather Nauert said that over 117,000 people are believed to have been detained or forcibly disappeared in Syria since the conflict began in 2011, with "the vast majority" suspected to be in regime custody "across a network of prisons where regime officials torture and murder civilians to intimidate and silence any opposition" to Bashar Assad's rule. (Anadolu Agency)