The World Today for December 28, 2017



Deadly Speculation

Imagine North Korea obliterating Manhattan and other targets in a nuclear strike in March 2019 after a series of missteps and ill-conceived signals between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington.

“Hundreds of thousands perished in South Korea and Japan from the combination of the blasts and fires,” wrote nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis in an alarming speculative essay in the Washington Post recently.

Lewis’ dark vision increasingly appears to be a realistic scenario in light of the saber-rattling that’s been occurring over North Korea in recent months.

Writing in the Boston Globe, globalization guru Jeffrey Sachs argued the world was indeed on the brink of nuclear war.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, recently told Republicans in North Carolina that the US might need to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea to avoid that fate, USA Today reported.

North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, thinks it’s “too early” to take steps to avoid a war, wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. The 33-year-old dictator who has ruthlessly consolidated power – killing his uncle and half-brother, for example – has no sense of urgency about his apparent collision course with the world’s mightiest power, Ignatius said, citing UN officials who recently visited the country.

That’s not cause for relief. Taking war seriously – even expecting it because people and technologies are flawed – is the best way to avoid it.

“The exit ramps from this crisis appear to be narrowing in both Washington and Pyongyang, creating new worry, frustration and resolve,” said Ignatius.

But other signs say North Korea is girding for war.

The New York Times claimed that Kim has made his team of nuclear missile scientists heroes in the communist country.

Citing Japanese media, Bloomberg reported that Kim is experimenting with loading anthrax on intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

American, British and other officials have accused North Korea of launching the WannaCry ransomware attacks that temporarily shut down the British health system and caused other chaos in May. Slate raised doubts about those assertions, but the world has known for years that cyberattacks are as crucial to warfare today as cavalries were to fighting in the past.

The Financial Times also noted that Kim was working hard to reduce the role of China in the Hermit Kingdom’s moribund economy. That shift might hurt his citizens in the short run. But Kim has shown little regard for his people, and in the long run less dependence on China gives him more leverage in his quest to lift sanctions that have isolated his country.

One might say the writing is on the wall, but there is still time to avoid the worst.



Choosing Sides

Turkey called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, denouncing him as a terrorist mass murderer ahead of a hoped-for political resolution to the Syrian civil war.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement saying Assad has no future in post-war Syria comes as the controversial president, accused of using barrel bombs against his own people and violating international agreements banning chemical weapons, looks more likely than ever to remain in power when the fighting ends, the New York Times reported.

Russia and Iran, Assad’s most important allies, are both working to keep Assad in place, while the US has recently vacillated in its support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who oppose him, noted the Washington Post.

For Erdogan, the statement marks another reversal of sorts. He was one of the first leaders to condemn Assad when the conflict began in 2011, but in recent months he had begun to signal he’d accepted that Assad would remain in power.


Another New Capital

Answering Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Iran’s parliament voted to declare the city the capital of Palestine on Wednesday.

The bill passed easily, with 207 “yes” votes from the 290-member parliament, the Hill reported.

Iran has long been a vocal proponent of an independent Palestine, and cut diplomatic ties with Israel after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Its current government doesn’t recognize Israel as a legitimate state.

Earlier, Newsweek cited a report in Lebanon’s Daily Star as saying Washington’s much-criticized decision could unite the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni Palestian Hamas – which fought on opposite sides in Syria. “There could be an official announcement soon from the axis of resistance that it is coming together to confront Israel and Trump’s decision,” the paper cited a Lebanon-based security source as saying.

Many Arab and Muslim countries view the city, or at least East Jerusalem, as the capital of a Palestinian state.


Humanitarian Gesture

Ukraine began its first prisoner exchange with pro-Russian separatists in more than a year, in what experts see as a key step in implementing the framework for peace outlined in the Minsk agreements.

CNN cited reports from multiple Russian news outlets that the exchange had begun Wednesday, following a statement by Russian state media earlier this week that Ukraine had agreed to release 306 prisoners in exchange for 74 being held by separatists.

“This is a deeply humanitarian gesture, even more so on the occasion of Christmas and New Year,” Martin Sajdik, of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said in a statement on Tuesday. OSCE observers have been monitoring the situation in Ukraine since 2014. On Friday the OSCE hailed an apparent renewed commitment by the warring factions to the ceasefire plan.

The Minsk agreements, which have never been fully implemented, call for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine, along with the release of hostages and other conditions.


A Passion for Games

With a large population, poverty, corruption, and sectarian conflicts, Nigerians have a figured a way to deal with their woes: board games.

In fact, the national past time is also a competitive sport, with the country boasting more top 100 players than any other nation, and winning the Scrabble world championship in Nairobi, the Economist reported.

It is uncertain how many Nigerians play, but according to the coach of Nigeria’s national Scrabble team, there are roughly 4,000 Scrabblers in more than 100 clubs around the country, compared to about 2,500 in 152 clubs in North America.

However, national tournaments with prizes up to $10,000, also involve other board games such as Monopoly and chess.

The capital Lagos even has its own Monopoly board.

Some say Nigeria’s passion for games underscores the county’s unofficial motto: “Nigerians strive to finish first.”

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