The World Today for February 04, 2019

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Do Not Repeat

Stories of American warplanes and naval ships jousting with their Russian and Chinese counterparts in northern Europe and East Asia are now commonplace.

Read the South China Morning Post for a few incidents that occurred over the Pacific in recent years. This Naval Times story about a Russian jet buzzing an American spy plane is also telling.

But recent developments in Russian and Chinese weapons systems are raising eyebrows among US military leaders and analysts, who suggest the jockeying could soon become more perilous.

Last year, a bipartisan Congressional commission warned that Russia or China could potentially defeat the US in a war, wrote Stars and Stripes.

“Since the beginning of January, the Chinese military has revealed a dizzying array of sophisticated and powerful new weaponry,” CNN reported.

The Daily Beast was similarly alarmist: “Has Russia Outdone the US With Its New Stealth Attack Drone?” read a headline in the online news site recently.

While the US has been mired in Iraq and Afghanistan and simultaneously maintaining troops in nearly every corner of the globe, the Russians and Chinese have been investing in the next generation of weaponry and testing their troops and logistics capabilities in regional conflict zones like Georgia, Ukraine and artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Russia, for example, recently developed a hypersonic missile that President Vladimir Putin said was “invulnerable to intercept,” reported NBC News. And now that President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces, or INF treaty, Russia is set to begin developing new ground-launched medium-range missiles that were banned under the 1987 agreement.

China’s first aircraft carrier, acquired in the late 1990s, was commissioned in 2012. More are coming online soon, the National Interest reported. The US has 11 aircraft carriers.

But, as the Germans discovered in the early 20th century when they confronted the then-mighty British navy, a few powerful warships and stealthy submarines can wreak havoc on a foe whose overstretched resources defend far-flung territories.

In a New York Times op-ed, China experts Derek Scissors and Daniel Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute suggested cutting economic ties that help support the Chinese military. The economy of the world’s most populous country has fused the civilian and military realms, they write. Targeting parts of the former would starve the latter.

The US is seeking to expand missile defense programs in a bid to address the geopolitical shifts, reported the Washington Post.

But, regarding Russia, Eurasia risk consultancy guru Ian Bremmer recently told WNYC listeners that the US should be more afraid of a Russian cyberattack shutting down critical infrastructure – think no electricity for gas station pumps throughout Los Angeles – than a mushroom cloud.

It’s not pleasant to consider Armageddon. But it’s better than repeating history.



Bannon Bossanova

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, who is a member of the country’s Congress, has joined former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s Europe-based rightwing populist group, The Movement, as its Latin America representative.

“We will work with him to reclaim sovereignty from progressive globalist elitist forces and expand common sense nationalism for all citizens of Latin America,” Eduardo Bolsonaro said in a statement announcing the move, according to Bloomberg.

In December, USA Today reported that political analysts had questioned the viability of Bannon’s plans, saying Europe’s most high-profile populist politicians weren’t terribly keen to seek his advice and his efforts to influence the May European parliament elections faced hurdles due to Europe’s campaign finance laws.

Meanwhile, another of the Brazilian president’s sons, Flavio, who is a senator, has come under media scrutiny for alleged ties to the purported leader of a Rio de Janeiro death squad known as the Crime Bureau, the Guardian reported in January.


Path to Peace

The government of the Central African Republic finalized a peace deal with 14 rebel groups that could end the turmoil that has plagued the country since 2013.

The UN mission in CAR and the African Union (AU), which both sponsored the talks in Sudan, announced the agreement Saturday, the BBC reported. “This is a great day for Central African Republic and all its people,” said AU commissioner Smail Chergui.

The details of the peace deal hadn’t been released, however, and analysts cautioned that similar past agreements have all collapsed. A spokesman for one of the rebel groups said negotiators had reached a consensus on an amnesty for militia fighters and an inclusive government, two important hurdles.

Chaos has reigned in CAR since 2013, when Muslim rebels from the Seleka umbrella group seized power in the majority-Christian country, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias.

The resulting violence has killed thousands, internally displaced millions, and prompted nearly 600,000 to flee the country, the BBC said.


Papal Visit

The vice president and prime minister of the UAE welcomed Pope Francis, who is making the first papal visit to an Arab Gulf state to support the growing population of Christian migrant workers.

“We welcome Pope Francis to the UAE. This historic visit will deepen the values of tolerance, understanding and interfaith dialogue,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum via Twitter, according to Arabian Business. The vice president and prime minister also noted that the UAE has long promoted freedom of religion, though conversion from Islam to Christianity or another faith is illegal.

The papal visit comes as Christians in the Middle East are facing increasing pressure, the New York Times reported, noting that the result has been a decline of the Christian population to about 4 percent from 20 percent before World War I. However, in Gulf countries like the UAE, the numbers of Christians are rising due to an influx of foreign workers from the Philippines, India and other Asian countries.

Pope Francis will spend three days in Abu Dhabi, attending an interreligious conference with Jewish and Christian leaders and holding a papal mass on Tuesday.


May the Force Be With You

The Star Wars movie franchise has made such an impact culturally that lightsaber schools are popping up around the world.

British company Sabre Masters is offering lessons in its proprietary lightsaber-style weapons. Its students pursue their dreams to become a Jedi Master.

“We have mindfulness before the start of each lesson and the end of each lesson,” Mel Wilson of Sabre Masters told the BBC. “We’re teaching them about responsibility, about control, about being aware of themselves and carrying forward into their own lives.”

Although the LED devices aren’t the real thing, they look and sound exactly like the iconic weapons in the movies.

The company hopes LED saber fighting will one day become a recognized sport, but the trend has already started in Russia, where Star Wars fans train intensively at the world’s first lightsaber school in Moscow. Its students prepare for performances and even official fencing championships, Deutsche Welle reported.

“Saber fighting is very popular because by taking a lightsaber in your hand and trying to imitate the movement of the characters in the films, you can live your dream and become them,” instructor Dmitry Semenikhin told the German state-funded broadcaster.

The Force is strong in these aspiring Jedi.

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