The World Today for March 07, 2018



Smoke, Mirrors, Bombs

The German Press Agency recently ran a story with a headline that translates as “The German military lacks winter clothing for NATO’s eastern front.”

The article described how German troops in NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force – a unit established in 2014 after Russia annexed the former Ukrainian territory of Crimea –  lacked not only battle tanks, submarines and helicopters but winter clothing and other basic equipment.

That’s shocking, considering that NATO is an alliance of the world’s richest countries. The situation led Clemens Wergin, the Washington bureau chief for the German newspaper Die Welt, to harshly criticize German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But it’s also interesting to see how Moscow exploited the German Press Agency’s headline. As the Kremlin-supported RT news-cum-propaganda network noted, “The term Eastern Front is associated with the 1941 Nazi invasion of USSR.”

Russia likes to complain that NATO is belligerent.

“Unfortunately, the situation is unhealthy because some NATO and European Union members seek to raise tensions and move the Alliance farther to the east without taking into account the opinions of other countries,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Russian news agency Tass during a visit to Serbia.

But as Washington politicians are realizing as they parse out the effect of Russian-manufactured fake news on the 2016 US presidential campaign, Moscow sometimes distorts things.

NATO’s problem might not be aggressiveness. The problem might be that the alliance is divided and unprepared to go to war.

US President Donald Trump made the reluctance of European allies to spend more on their militaries a centerpiece of his campaign rhetoric – a stance that might seem logical, given the state of the unready Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

But last month the New York Times reported that American officials are now concerned that Europe might be too eager to cut out American military contractors as its nations spend more on their own defense.

European leaders, meanwhile, worry that Trump’s “America first” policies might mean that NATO comes second, Foreign Policy wrote.

The divisions are causing tremors throughout Europe.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a former Yugoslav republic whose people suffered mightily under pro-Russian Serbian Yugoslav leaders in the 1990s, Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic makes no bones about his goal of joining NATO, Al Jazeera said. Evoking the days when the alliance stood for civil rights and prosperity, he sees NATO as an imprimatur of stability.

But in Montenegro, a tiny ex-Yugoslav republic that became independent from Serbia in 2006, NATO is still controversial, at least among some.

Montenegro joined the alliance last year. Last month, a Serbian-born assailant harboring anti-NATO sentiments threw a bomb at the US embassy before blowing himself up. How do we know he was against the alliance? He had written “No to NATO” in a Facebook post in May 2017, reported the Associated Press.

All signs suggest he was telling the truth.



Surprise Summit

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un announced he’s willing to discuss freezing the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear program and agreed to a summit with South Korean leaders in April on the matter after a meeting between Korean delegations Tuesday in Pyongyang.

The summit to take place at Panmunjom on the nations’ highly militarized border is the first of its kind in over a decade and marks progress in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula after a year of nuclear tests and rhetorical spats between Kim and American President Donald Trump, the Guardian reported.

While in talks with South Korea, Kim agreed to halt any nuclear testing and also expressed he’s open to direct negotiations with the United States on normalizing relations between the two countries and full-scale denuclearization.

The surprise development is being pegged as a win for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who used the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang as a springboard into thawing relations with the North, CNN reported.

President Trump responded hesitantly to the announcement on Twitter, saying that while the meeting may end in false hope, “the World is watching and waiting!”


Fanning Flames

Following a weekend of mob violence against the nation’s Muslim minority population, the Sri Lankan government announced a ten-day state of emergency on Tuesday, underscoring ethnic tensions that continue to plague the country.

The violence began Sunday in the central district of Kandy after a truck driver belonging to the nation’s majority Sinhalese Buddhist community, who comprise 75 percent of the population, was injured by a group of Muslim men in what’s being reported as a case of road rage, the New York Times reported.

The incident escalated when firebrand Sinhalese Buddhist monks, known for fanning ethnic conflict in the past, descended on the scene. Many believe their presence alone provoked other Sinhalese to attack dozens of Muslim businesses, houses and places of worship, the Times reported.

Fires have destroyed many businesses, dozens have been arrested and strict curfews have been imposed in the district, the Guardian wrote.

The last state of emergency ended in 2011 – just two years after the conclusion of the nation’s 26-year civil war. Even so, spats between the Muslim minority and Sinhalese Buddhists are common, and anti-Muslim violence has been on the rise in recent years.


Bearing Gifts

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced $533 million in famine relief funds for Africa’s Lake Chad region ahead of his five-nation trip to the continent this week.

The funds will go toward providing food, medical supplies, better sanitation and emergency shelter to people in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and countries around Lake Chad, Bloomberg reported.

“The alarming levels of hunger in these areas are largely man-made, as conflicts erupt and people flee their homes,” Tillerson said hours before he left for Ethiopia, his first stop. Later in the week, he will visit Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria.

The aid package notwithstanding, the focus of Tillerson’s trip is security, as the US looks to partner with African nations to combat an Islamic State offshoot in the Sahel region as well as Al Shabab militants in Somalia, the agency said.

He’ll also aim to sooth feelings in the region after President Donald Trump’s alleged reference to “shithole” countries in January and combat China’s rising influence in Africa, where Tillerson said Beijing’s “predatory loans” “mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty.”


The Doomsday Seeds

In the event of a global calamity, scientists in Norway are ensuring that humanity can begin anew by protecting the planet’s crop biodiversity.

Locked away in an underground vault on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard close to the Arctic Circle, 900,000 seed samples are stored at a constant zero degrees Fahrenheit. Doors to the secluded facility are only opened twice a year for deposits.

While the conservatory isn’t the world’s first, researchers have bolstered stocks in the Arctic in recent years after a smaller seed repository in Syria was damaged during that nation’s brutal civil war: The Svalbard vault recently received a $13 million upgrade in light of escalating conflicts and global climate change, USA Today reported.

The funds will be used for the “construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel, as well as a service building to house emergency power and refrigerating units and other electrical equipment,” according to Norway’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Recently, the vault added more than 70,000 new crops to its stocks, including unusual varieties like the Estonian onion potato, unique varieties of rice and of course, barley – to brew Irish beer.

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