Week in Review

21 September 2018

Heaven Lake, Paektu Mountain, North Korea. Chairman Kim and President Moon visited this sacred mountain during their summit.

Heaven Lake, Paektu Mountain, North Korea. Chairman Kim and President Moon visited this sacred mountain during their summit.


WHAT TO MAKE OF KOREAN DIPLOMACY. President Moon of South Korea and Chairman Kim of North Korea met this week in North Korea for their second summit of the year. After a summer of diplomatic disappointment, some tangible results have been achieved. Agreements on economic cooperation and reduction of military aggression were announced, with particular significance placed on the dismantlement of Tongchang-ri facility, a site known for the country’s space and ballistic missile program. Importantly, satellite images confirmed that it is in the process of being dismantled and that North Korea has invited international observers to verify the dismantlement. Still, this is far from denuclearization and with both leaders desiring another Trump-Kim summit, it is not known how much progress will be made. The last summit in Singapore achieved essentially nothing for the United States and was seen as a clear victory for North Korea. As long as President Trump does not give more concessions to Chairman Kim, continued communication is undoubtedly a good sign for stability.

FARC, NOTHING MORE THAN A NAME. In 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This ended decades of war between the rebel group and the government. The lands the rebels had controlled were to be injected with government capital in order to rebuild the education and health care system. Two years on, there is no sign of such rebuild, the new president rejects much of the accord, and most significantly, many of the rebels have splintered off into other resistance groups. The failure of the government to make good on their end of the deal and due to general discontent with it from the outset has led to continued violence. The fighters under the name FARC have just created other groups with the same values and goals, FARC is only a name for the true cause of these dissatisfied Colombians. The failure for the government to deal with the real issues these people have now will prevent tangible progress from being made in the future.

GAMBLING ON THE SUPREME COURT NOMINEE. Earlier this week Christine Ford accused Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. Her story spells out attempted rape and now she has garnered an invitation to speak in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to speak her case for the record. On Tuesday night, she sent a letter to Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley stating that she would not speak until the FBI had investigated her claim first. Yet, Senator Grassley responded that if she does not speak on Monday she will not have another chance prior to the vote, and that a possible investigation has no effect on her testimony. This is seen from political observers as a gamble for the Republican Party. In an era of the #metoo movement, Grassley as an auxiliary of all Republican Senators has essentially told Ford that she has one chance to speak and if she plays games with them, she will lose it. Of course, with a president who has been recorded talking about sexually assaulting women, it may not be too large of a gamble for the Republican Party. Yet, with the midterm elections approaching, it is obvious the Senators are willing to take that chance to ensure their nominee makes it onto the Supreme Court before the Democrats have a chance at blocking it.

RAMPING UP THE TRADE WAR. President Trump’s decision to place a duty of 10% on $189bn worth of Chinese imports throws the United States into a full-fledged trade war with China. Unless some sort of agreement can come together before January 1st the American tariffs will increase to 25%. China has promised to retaliate with tariffs on $60bn worth of American exports. These tariffs will push costs mostly on American businesses and eventually to the consumer. This asymmetric retaliation by China demonstrates its inability to keep up with the United States due to the trade imbalance, but will regardless increase instability between the two countries. President Trump has complained that China is stealing intellectual property and breaking the World Trade Organization’s rules, among other issues. Yet, by applying the tariffs, America is breaking the rules too. A children’s saying, “two wrongs don’t make a right”, may summarize this predicament well and without cooperative negotiations there is no sign of the trade war slowing down.

END OF AN ERA. Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the centre of power within her country and the European Union for more than a decade; governing the most economically powerful state on the continent. While she is leading a coalition for her fourth term, her stature as Chancellor has lost much of its prominence with infighting and her colleagues vying for more power. The latest case stems from Hans-Georg Maassen, the domestic intelligence chief, who questioned the authenticity of a video showing irate white men chasing an immigrant. In such a case, one would expect Merkel to fire him, but under current circumstances he has been given a raise. Since he is friends with the Interior Minister and boss, Horst Seehofer, whom is Merkel’s conservative coalition partner. Such power struggles have been going on since the beginning of Merkel’s fourth term and are representative of the loss of power for Merkel to the right-wing, populist movement in Europe.

CONFLICT AVOIDED AFTER ACCIDENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST. After Syrian gunners shot down an Russian military plane believing it was Israeli on Monday, conflict was avoided due in large part to President Putin’s moderate response. Instead of blaming Israel like the Russian Defence Ministry had done, Putin said it was “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances”. The strike was in response to Israeli airstrikes on Syrian territory targeting weapons-manufacturing systems that were to be transferred to Hezbollah. Russia has been quite forgiving of Israel’s strikes against Iranian backed groups in Syria. The situation there continues to be complex with many actors interested in the power struggles evolving as the civil war comes to an end.

FREEDOM FOR POLITICAL PRISONERS. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been president since 2000 was once seen as a international and national hero for helping stop the genocide in 1994. Now he is president for 18 years and could be for over another decade; he is undeniably autocratic. Yet, recently his government has released 2140 inmates, many convicted through political motives. Perhaps the most important, is Ms. Victoire Ingabire, who returned to Rwanda with the intention of running for President and spoke out about the genocide, a taboo topic. It is unclear why the inmates were released or whether more reforms may come. It was only in 2015 when the president altered the constitution to stay in power until 2034 and recently won an election with 99% of the vote. This change is positive, but more is unlikely.