December 12, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Smiling Kim

Amid the ongoing world conflict between democratically elected leaders who appear fated for humiliation and emboldened authoritarian strongmen who just won’t go away, North Korean Great Leader Kim Jong-un is likely smiling at the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in South Korea.

The Hermit Kingdom has been “uncharacteristically restrained” in the run-up to South Korean lawmakers impeaching Park last week, The New York Times reported Sunday. That’s because the North has no desire to divert the public’s attention from allegations against Park involving an influence peddling scandal that includes a cult leader’s daughter, major corporations like Samsung and a network of bogus nonprofit foundations.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear scientists are still toiling away on their missiles while the Australian press suggested that Kim’s wife might have borne the couple a son and heir who could carry on his family’s dictatorial traditions.

The New York Times added that the election of Donald Trump, who has made contradictory remarks on Park’s impeachment, means South Korea and the US are on the same page less than ever.

“I do not think we have ever seen a time when you have had simultaneous uncertainty about governance in both Seoul and Washington,” an expert at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Park has said the charges against her amount to “speculation and imagination,” Bloomberg wrote. She’s among a handful of people also accused in the alleged scheme. South Korea’s top court now has six months to rule on the impeachment.

The National Interest pondered whether North Korea might seek to take advantage of the chaos on the instigation of China. North Korean aggression could be a bargaining chip in the seeming escalation of tensions between Beijing and Washington since Trump’s recent surprise call to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, the conservative magazine argued.

For decades, the US had upheld the principal that Taiwan was a renegade Chinese province whose leader shouldn’t hold phone calls with the American president.

As if he were anticipating that move, South Korean Prime Minister and the acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn, who took over after Park’s impeachment, announced last week that South Korea was stepping up its cooperation with its allies to respond to North Korea if necessary.

The announcement felt obligatory, but it still wasn’t a positive omen for the months ahead.

At the same time, it’s unclear what machinations if any might be occurring in Pyongyang. One thing is for sure: Presidents and prime ministers come and go, giving the Supreme Leader more reason, however misguided, to think he’ll reign forever.

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WANT TO KNOW

Copts and Terror

An explosion ripped through a church in Cairo during mass on Sunday, killing at least 25 people in the worst attack on a Christian house of worship in Egypt since 2011.

The bomb exploded around 10 a.m. local time at St Peter’s Church, wounding at least 49 people, Al-Jazeera reported. St. Peter’s is next to St. Mark’s Cathedral, which is the seat of Egypt’s Orthodox Christian church and home to the office of its spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II. St. Mark’s is currently undergoing renovations.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi described as a “terrorist act” that has no place in Egypt.

Analysts said the attack on Egypt’s Christian community, which makes up about 10 percent of the population, illustrates the failure of the president to make good on his 2014 campaign promise to improve security. A former general, Sisi was elected in polls boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood after he deposed Mohamed Morsi in a 2013 coup to assume the presidency by force.

Jihadist Comeback

As the US proposed a plan to allow rebels and civilians alike to evacuate Aleppo, Islamic State recaptured the city of Palmyra.

Moscow has denied that it accepted the plan to evacuate Aleppo and the rebels have yet to respond to the overture, which would end four years of fighting for the city if it were honored by all the players in the struggle, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State took back Palmyra on Sunday, marking a major advance in a year that has seen the terrorist group lose much of its territory in Syria and Iraq, the New York Times said. Though the ancient city does not have the same strategic importance as Aleppo, Assad had trumpeted his victory there nine months ago as the first sign Syrian and Russian troops were making headway against the jihadists.

Backtracking

Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh will challenge the results of a Dec. 1 election in the country’s Supreme Court, and said he would file suit Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Jammeh alleges that there were “serious and unacceptable abnormalities” and called for fresh polls, though spontaneous celebrations had erupted across the country when he initially conceded defeat and recognized the victory of opposition leader Adama Barrow earlier this month.

Taking the battle to the court may be problematic. Though Gambia has a chief justice, at least four more judges will need to be hired to form a full supreme court, analysts said. Meanwhile, Jammeh has a track record for chopping and changing the makeup of the judiciary to suit his own agenda, suggesting he may well look to stack the deck with the new hires.

DISCOVERIES

Of Frenemies and Volcanos

What event could possibly force the United States and Britain to work together with North Korea?

For one, the rumblings of a sleeping volcano with a history of violent eruptions.

North Korea’s Mount Paektu has been dormant for over a millennium, but it used to pack a punch. Its eruption almost 1,000 years ago – aptly called the Millennial Eruption – is one of the most devastating in human history.

When scientists from the Hermit Kingdom detected tremors beneath the volcano’s surface, they broke away from isolationism and reached out to the West for help in assessing the problem.

What followed was a years-long multinational collaboration to better understand the sleeping giant, the findings of which were published recently in Science Advances.

Mount Paektu is a staple of North Korean culture. It’s the site where founding father Kim Il-sung led a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Japanese, and the supposed birthplace of his son and eventual successor, Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-il is the father of the country’s current leader, Kim Jong-un.

“That cultural significance explains part of the motivation for the scientists there to understand the volcano,” Clive Oppenheimer, a team member and volcanologist from the University of Cambridge, told the New York Times.

To pinpoint a timeframe for future eruptions, scientists had to glimpse into the past. By analyzing microscopic particles from the Millennial Eruption frozen in ice, they calculated that 20 times more sulfur was released into the atmosphere than previously believed, possibly changing the earth’s climate patterns in the process.

But could it happen again? Kayla Iacovino, a team member and volcanologist from Arizona State University, says more monitoring is needed.

“If we can understand the volcano’s history, what the volcano is capable of, only then can we start to make predictions of what it might do in the future.”