The World Today for August 30, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

KAZAKHSTAN

The Land of the Wanderers

Kazakhstan is vying for a seat at the table with global power brokers.

To get it, Central Asia’s largest economy faces a decision, the Economist notes: Open its markets and modernize, or stagnate.

That’s not the easiest choice for the “land of the wanderers” in the Great Steppe.

Here’s why: Kazakhs are a bit averse to foreign influence – to put it mildly – given their brutal history with the Soviets. Shortly after the founding of the USSR, Kazakhstan was annexed, hyper-industrialized and collectivized, resulting in millions of deaths, the BBC notes.

Kazakhstan also served as a guinea pig for the Soviets’ nuclear program during the Cold War. Nuclear tests left behind a legacy of death and destruction, birth defects and environmental degradation.

Nobody expected an independent Kazakhstan to be a significant player in foreign affairs once it gained independence in 1991.

But the discovery of the giant Kashagan oil field in the Caspian Sea spurred economic confidence and led to Kazakhstan solidifying energy deals with China. It’s now included Kazakhstan in its “Belt and Road” program of modernizing transportation links between Asia, Europe and Africa.

A nexus of sorts between all regions, Kazakhstan’s surprisingly futuristic capital Astana, with its intriguing architecture and foreign expos, could very well become the transit hub of Eurasia.

Kazakhstan utilizes its geography to make up in international influence what it lacks in other sectors. Many Kazakh enterprises are still partially state-run, for example, and stagnant oil prices have hurt its economy, which relies on oil and energy exports, Stratfor noted.

But with its strategic global address, Astana often plays negotiator in international conflicts. It’s active in talks on the Syrian civil war and helped to broker the Iran nuclear deal. It will likely also mediate discussions regarding the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, Euractiv notes.

Despite its troubled history with Russia, Astana has promoted nuclear non-proliferation with its northern neighbor, boosting investor confidence in the country’s economic potential. It could soon have the funds to back up its soft power on the global stage.

Also, Kazakhstan’s trajectory toward global prominence could serve as an example to struggling states like North Korea, the Washington Times reports.

Instead of stiff-arming its way to significance, Astana chose a conciliatory approach with its powerful neighbors.

It’s a bet that looks likely to continue paying off.

[siteshare]The Land of the Wanderers[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

BANGLADESH

Donor Fatigue

As epic floods devastate Texas, a similar deluge has swamped parts of Bangladesh, India and Nepal, stretching the capabilities of international aid agencies.

“What is challenging is that this is just another disaster on top of four famines in Africa and the Middle East, a cholera crisis in Yemen, protracted emergencies in Syria, Afghanistan. Donor fatigue is a significant concern,” NPR quoted an American Red Cross official as saying.

So far, flooding has claimed 1200 lives in these densely populated, poverty-stricken countries, and affected some 24 million people, NPR reported. Unlike the US, these countries lack the financial resources and disaster-relief programs to respond quickly and effectively, though comparing tragedies serves no one.

In Nepal, 80 percent of the country’s agricultural fields were destroyed, posing a threat to food security as winter approaches. And in Bangladesh, displaced people are encamped on the flood plain itself, simply because the country lacks stadiums and other infrastructure to convert into safe structures to house them.

[siteshare]Donor Fatigue[/siteshare]

SYRIA

Shifting Sands

The war against Islamic State in Syria may be coming to an end, but the wrangling for power is likely to get more complicated as the bombs stop bursting.

As a case in point, US troops this week engaged in a firefight with rebel forces backed by Turkey, though both groups are ostensibly fighting the same foe, Reuters reported. The reason: the US supports the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a local alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias battling Islamic State, whereas Turkey sees the Kurdish force as a threat to its own sovereignty down the line and wants to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retain power after the fighting ends.

The skirmish comes as a US grand jury indicted 19 people, including 15 Turkish security officials, for attacking protesters in May 2017 during a US visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Washington Post reported. The indictments charge the defendants with attacking peaceful demonstrators protesting against the Turkish president.

In Syria, the US has told Turkey to tell its forces that firing on US-led coalition forces “is not acceptable,” coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said.

Of course, that ought to go without saying.

[siteshare] Shifting Sands [/siteshare]

JAPAN

The White Flag

The environmentalist group Sea Shepherd has admitted a defeat of sorts in its campaign against whaling in Japan.

The seafaring activist group will no longer deploy ships to pursue and attempt to stop whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean, since Japan’s military is now using satellite technology to track Sea Shepherd’s ships and help the whalers to avoid them, the New York Times reported.

Since 1977 the self-described “eco-vigilante” group has fired water cannons and stink bombs in efforts to stop whaling, though the group’s founder, Paul Watson, says it has always operated within the law. And while Japan accuses the eco-warriors of boarding and ramming its vessels and fouling propellers, Sea Shepherd videos show Japanese vessels ramming its ships.

Since 2005, Sea Shepherd has patrolled the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, where whaling is prohibited but Japan has a special research permit that allows for limited operations.

In 2015, Japan revived Antarctic whaling in the name of research with a self-imposed quota, which had been outlawed by the International Court of Justice. Scientists, however, condemned the practice.

[siteshare]The White Flag[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Pulling the Plug

It’s hard to take an international ban on killer robots seriously.

But when entrepreneurial genius Elon Musk and other top businessmen as well as robotics and artificial intelligence experts ask the United Nations to consider the idea, one is inclined to listen.

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” wrote Musk and his colleagues in a letter to the UN recently.

They’re asking that robot makers never explicitly program robots to kill, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In contrast, other experts have suggested that robots and artificial intelligence might increase efficiency and protect human lives on the battlefield.

The letter to the UN echoes one Musk, British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wrote in 2015 that warned about artificial intelligence destabilizing global security a la the Terminator films featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Of course, artificial intelligence might also someday help save humanity by inventing time travel so people in the future could warn everyone before the robots turn on us.

[siteshare]Pulling the Plug[/siteshare]

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