The World Today for November 08, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

EASTERN EUROPE

The New Geopolitics

“Fort Trump” became a punchline in September after President Andrzej Duda of Poland suggested the name for a permanent US military base his country has proposed on its soil.

The New York Times described how Polish commentators panned Duda’s suggestion.

But more important were Trump’s comments on NATO during the Polish president’s visit to Washington.

“It’s one thing when we defend countries that can’t defend themselves and their great people,” Trump said at a news conference with Duda. “We should help them – we don’t expect anything for that. But when we’re defending immensely wealthy countries and they’re not paying for the defense to the United States, they’re only taking advantage of us. And we get along with them very well, but it’s not fair. That includes NATO.”

Donald Trump’s feelings on NATO’s imbalances are well known.

It might therefore be understandable if some European leaders are suffering from whiplash as the White House criticizes their military budgets while also supporting the largest expansion in NATO’s capabilities in recent memory.

“NATO holds biggest military exercise since Cold War,” read a recent BBC headline, describing war games that included all 29 alliance members, plus Sweden and Finland.

Coincidentally, the exercise was held off the coast of Norway as Russia performed missile tests in the same region, Agence France-Presse and the Local reported.

The saber rattling comes as Russia has grown more aggressive in the Baltics and elsewhere, wrote Stratfor, a think tank. It also comes as the US, Russia and China are vying for influence in Eastern Europe in general as the Cold War recedes further into the past, the Associated Press noted.

Many would say Trump’s skepticism about NATO is creating a vacuum that other powers might seek to fill.

But the president’s recently announced plans to pull out of the US-Russian Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty might achieve the opposite.

The Washington Post reported that the move would punish Russia for allegedly violating the treaty in the first place. The Russian-state owned news agency Sputnik expressed a different point of view.

Strategically, an expanded US nuclear arsenal would also give NATO potentially more capacity to counter Russia’s increasingly formidable military, though World Politics Review argued that focusing on nuclear weapons might ignore the character of Russian might.

NATO is deploying troops, including American forces, in Poland. But Trump apparently gave a lukewarm reception to establishing a permanent US base in a former Warsaw Pact member nation, possibly out of fear of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin – whom Trump said Wednesday that he would not meet over the weekend in Paris, contradicting a statement from the Kremlin.

Nothing is ever straightforward in geopolitics of this scale.

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Happy Face, Angry Face

US President Donald Trump may be “very happy” with the way denuclearization talks with North Korea are proceeding, but Pyongyang is “really angry” with Washington for refusing to relax sanctions while the negotiations are underway.

“It doesn’t bode well for the negotiations, which were already not proceeding well,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, after the sudden postponement of a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials, CNN reported.

The problem may be the victories that Trump underscored at a White House press conference Wednesday. “We’re very happy with how it’s going with North Korea,” Trump said. “The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.”

But to North Korea’s state media outlet KCNA the situation looks very different. “We gave all things possible to the US, things it hardly deserves, by taking proactive and good-will measures, what remains to be done is the US corresponding reply.”

With both sides convinced that it’s their counterpart’s turn to make concessions, the stalemate won’t be easy to break – even if Trump does manage to meet Kim Jong-un again early next year.

CHILE

Chilling with Kindness

Chile sent a planeload of Haitians back to their home country in a so-called “humanitarian” gesture that migrant groups blasted as “forced deportation.”

The first so-called “humanitarian flight” returned 176 migrants to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, Reuters reported. A total of 1,087 people have signed up for the return program, the Chilean interior ministry said in a statement.

Part of President Sebastian Pinera’s drive to reduce the number of migrants in Chile, the scheme requires participants to sign a declaration that they will not return for nine years and asks that they take their immediate family members with them.

The Chilean government claims that around 150,000 Haitians have immigrated to Chile in the past two years, in some cases lured by false promises from traffickers. But activists for migrant rights said the flights are essentially “enforced deportations” – sending people back to desperate conditions in Haiti.

Under United Nations policy, “assisted voluntary returns” are an acceptable response to migration-related crises, according to Chile’s interior ministry.

RWANDA

Dissent on Trial

The trial of Rwanda’s most prominent dissident politician began Wednesday with prosecutors demanding Diane Rwigara be sentenced to 22 years behind bars on charges of forgery and inciting insurrection.

But Rwigara, who was released on bail recently after a year in jail, insists that she’s innocent and the charges have been cooked up to silence her criticism of long-serving President Paul Kagame, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Kagame has brought relative prosperity to Rwanda since the 1994 genocide. But critics say he has also turned the country into an authoritarian, one-party state – reflected in the 99 percent share of the vote he managed in winning a third consecutive term last year.

Rwigara is accused of forging signatures on electoral documents so she could get on the ballot. But she says that charge was only a pretext to stop her from running. As for inciting insurrection, she says she was only speaking the truth.

“I stand by my remarks,” she told the court’s three judges.

DISCOVERIES

The Chamber of Secrets

Mention secret rooms in pyramids, tombs and crypts, and many people imagine mummies or cursed treasure.

In ancient Mesoamerica, such secret chambers might have been seen as entryways to the underworld, Science Alert reported.

Using technology that allows them to map underground structures without digging, archaeologists in Mexico have discovered a mysterious tunnel and chamber under the Pyramid of the Moon in the ancient city of Teotihuacán, which was once a sprawling metropolis and one of the busiest hubs in the world.

They speculate that the 50-foot-wide underground chamber was used for funerary rituals, wrote History.com, while the tunnel may have represented a passageway to the underworld where people could place offerings based on their beliefs about the afterlife.

Previous explorations of the pyramid revealed other tunnels with artifacts suggesting they served such a purpose. Archeologists found human skeletons, jewelry and mosaics in those tunnels.

Verónica Ortega from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said further research was needed to establish whether the newly detected chamber and tunnel were used for funerary rituals.

That would suggest an additional purpose for the massive pyramids, which remain mysterious to this day.

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