Category Archives: Geopolitics

Charts of the day: A tragic Bush/Obama legacy

Since George W. Bush launched his “Global War on Terror [Terra?]” and Barack Obama expanded it with even greater zeal, the flood of refugees in the Mideast has turned into a raging torrent, with millions fleeing their homes for temporary refuge both in their own and in other countries.

Two charts from a sobering new report from the Pew Research Center illustrates the scope of the problem.

First, the overall rise in refugees throughout the Middle East:



And then the rise of refugees displaced from their homes and still living in their own countries:


Headline of the day: Suspicions finally confirmed

From the London Daily Mail, another revelation from Hillary’s emails:

Israel has ‘200 nukes all pointed at Iran’, former US secretary of state Colin Powell  says in leaked private email that has Washington on edge

  • The detail is the latest revelation to emerge from a cache of leaked communications
  • The former US secretary of state revealed the information in an email he sent to a colleague last year
  • Israel has a policy of nuclear ambiguity and has never talked openly about the type or size of its weapons 
  • The email was being sent to business partner and democratic donor Jeffrey Leeds regarding Israeli PM Netanyahu’s speech to Congress 

U.S. bombers up the ante in the Game of Zones

Tensions are once again ratcheting up in the Asia waters around China, as nations makes claims and counterclaims for vast swathes of the Japan and China seas [see today’s earlier post].

The U.S. has been pushing its Asian allies to block Chinese moves, and in the process the Pentagon is rearming Vietnam and pushing Japan towards a more aggressive military policy.

And now the U.S. is making a new military move of its own, simultaneously with moves in Europe which are bring NATO forces right up to the Russian border.

From the Japan Times:

In an apparent bid to reassure Asian allies and deter potential adversaries, the three types of U.S. Air Force strategic bombers — B-1, B-2 and B-52 — will fly simultaneously in the Pacific for the first time.

The B-1s, which arrived at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on Aug. 6, will replace the B-52s in support of the U.S. Pacific Command’s so-called continuous bomber presence mission. The swap is expected to wrap up at the end of this month as the B-1s return to Guam for the first time since April 2006.

In addition, three B-2 stealth bombers also arrived in Guam for “a bomber assurance and deterrence deployment,” Pacific Command said in a statement on its website. It said both the B-1 and B-2 deployments “are part of a long-standing history of maintaining a consistent bomber presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in order to maintain stability and provide assurance to U.S. allies and partners in the region.”

“For the first time ever a B-52, B-1 & B-2 are simultaneously in the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility conducting integrating operational missions,” U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James wrote on Twitter last week.

Expect for things to get even hotter as China responds.

Another Game of Zones front heats up again

While most of the world’s attention on the rising tensions of rights to the resources of the China Seas and the Sea of Japan has focused on the conflict between China and Japan, another front is also heating up.

A planned Monday visit to a disputed site by South Korean legislators has upped the tension between that Seoul and Tokyo.

From The Japan Times:

Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, phoned a minister at the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo and said the plan is regrettable and totally unacceptable in light of Japan’s position on the sovereignty of the islands.

The rocky islets, called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, are controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.

A Japanese diplomat in Seoul also protested to Chung Byung-won, director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau.

According to South Korean media reports, both ruling party and opposition lawmakers are planning to make the visit on Monday, the 71st anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

UPDATE: Japan makes an escalation of its own

With the Obama administration backing the rearming of Japan, the first American government to do so since World War II, Japan has been ramping up its armed forces, and now it’s making a provocative move directly aimed at at China.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

The government intends to develop a new surface-to-ship missile for reinforcing the defense of remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The government aims to deploy the missile, which will have a maximum range of 300 kilometers, on Miyakojima and other major islands of the Sakishima islands. This will put the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands within its range.

Funding for the development will be included in the Defense Ministry’s initial budget requests for fiscal 2017. The government aims to deploy the missiles around fiscal 2023.

Game of Zones heats up, confrontation looms

From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

The Game of Zones, our term for the escalating multinational confrontations in the China Seas, are reaching the boiling point, with military encounters between China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines occurring on a daily basis as a nuclear-armed North Korea watches from the sidelines.

The looming crisis is the result of the Asian Pivot, a strategy created by Barack Obama and his then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Five tears ago, Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, dissected the Obama/Clinton Asian policy for The Nation:

The South China Sea has had increased prominence in Washington’s strategic calculus in recent years as China has asserted its interests there and as its importance as an economic arena has grown. Not only does the sea sit atop major oil and natural gas deposits—some being developed by US companies, including ExxonMobil—it also serves as the main route for ships traveling to and from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The Chinese say the South China Sea is part of their national maritime territory and that the oil and gas belongs to them; but Washington is insisting it will fight to preserve “freedom of navigation” there, at whatever cost. Whereas Taiwan once topped the list of US security challenges in the western Pacific, Hillary Clinton said on November 10 that “ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” is now Washington’s principal challenge.

Focusing on the South China Sea achieves several White House goals. It shifts the emphasis in US security planning from ideological determinism, as embedded in the increasingly unpopular drive to impose American values on the Middle East and fight a never-ending war against Islamist jihadism, to economic realism, as expressed through protecting overseas energy assets and maritime commerce. By dominating sea lanes the United States poses an implied threat of economic warfare against China in any altercations by cutting off its access to foreign markets and raw materials. And, through its very location, the South China Sea links US strategic interests in the Pacific to its interests in the Indian Ocean and to those of the rising powers of South Asia. According to Secretary Burns, a key objective of the administration’s strategy is to unite India with Japan, Australia and other members of the emerging anti-Chinese bloc.

Chinese officials following these developments must see them as a calculated US effort to encircle China with hostile alliances. How, exactly, Beijing will respond to this onslaught remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it will not be intimidated—resistance to foreign aggression lies at the bedrock of the national character and remains a key goal of the Chinese Communist Party, however attenuated by time. So blowback there will be.

Perhaps the White House believes that military competition will impede China’s economic growth and disguise US economic weaknesses. But this is folly: China has far greater economic clout than the United States. To enhance its position vis-à-vis China, America must first put its own house in order by reinvigorating its economy, reducing foreign debt, improving public education and eliminating unnecessary overseas military commitments.

Ultimately, what is most worrisome about the Obama administration’s strategic shift—which no doubt is dictated as much by domestic as foreign policy considerations, including the need to counter jingoistic appeals from GOP presidential candidates and to preserve high rates of military spending—is that it will trigger a similar realignment within Chinese policy circles, where military leaders are pushing for a more explicitly anti-American stance and a larger share of government funds. The most likely result, then, will be antagonistic moves on both sides, leading to greater suspicion, increased military spending, periodic naval incidents, a poisoned international atmosphere, economic disarray and, over time, a greater risk of war.

The Obama/Clinton push for a remilitarized Japan

The push for a Chinese confrontation has only grown stronger, and a key element is Japanese militarization, a full reversal of longstanding U.S. policy that began with the Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.S.-imposed military governor of Japan after World War II.

MacArthur’s chief accomplishment was a new national constitution, embraced by the Japanese, in which the nation was barred from creating all but a token military, one designed only for self-defense — hence the name, the Japanese Self Defense Forces.

But no more, as Roll Call’s Rachel Oswald reported in May:

In recent years, Japan, eager to show its commitment to working with the U.S. military, has moved past the strictly pacifist security posture it adopted after World War II. A little over a year ago, the United States and Japan finalized new defense cooperation guidelines allowing deeper military collaboration.

In September, Japan’s parliament, the Diet, approved legislation that would, in the words of the Abe government, “reactivate Japan’s innate right to collective self-defense,” authorizing the country’s Self-Defense Forces to come to the defense of threatened allies, namely the United States.

Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia, said “2015 was a historic year for us and for the alliance,” and the United States wants “to ensure that momentum continues.”

Japanese officials are trying to demonstrate to Washington they are working overtime to modernize their regional defense posture.

“Japan is the most determined military partner of the United States,” said Yoji Koda, a retired vice admiral of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. But Koda and others worry there is little awareness of Japan’s role in world security efforts. “Washington always complains, ‘free rider.’ But if there were no Japan, U.S. world strategy doesn’t function.”

The crisis begins to boil

The confrontation between China and the Japanese/U.S. partnership is heating up, with the latest developments especially troubling.

From BBC News:

Japan’s foreign minister has warned that ties with China are “significantly deteriorating”, after Chinese vessels repeatedly entered disputed waters in the East China Sea.

Fumio Kishida said he had called China’s ambassador to protest against the “incursions”.

On Friday, about 230 Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels sailed near islands claimed by both countries.

Beijing has been increasingly assertive about waters it believes are Chinese.

The Japan-controlled, uninhabited islands – known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China – are the source of a long-running dispute.

The Japanese coast guard said on Monday that about 13 Chinese coast guard ships, some of them armed, had been seen near the islands, higher than the usual number.

“The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is significantly deteriorating,” Mr Kishida told Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, according to a statement on the foreign ministry website.

“We cannot accept that [China] is taking actions that unilaterally raise tensions.”

Much more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Google eliminates Palestine from its maps

What Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been laboring at for years Google has accomplished with a push of a button.

A troubling move from the digital giant via teleSUR English:

Journalists and activists have excoriated Google for wiping Palestine completely off its map app, depicting the entire occupied Palestinian territories as part of the state of Israel.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Forum initiated an online campaign to pressure the internet giant to reconsider its stance. The organization accused Google of being “part of the Israeli scheme to establish its name as a legitimate state for generations to come and abolish Palestine once and for all.”

“The move is also designed to falsify history, and geography as well as the Palestinian people’s right to their homeland, and a failed attempt to tamper with the memory of Palestinians and Arabs as well as the world,” the statement continued.

In response, critics on Twitter have used the hashtag #BoycottGoogle to condemn the company. A petition on urging Google to put Palestine back on the map has garnered 147,402 signatures as of Monday, just shy of its 150,000 goal.

“The omission of Palestine is a grievous insult to the people of Palestine and undermines the efforts of the millions of people who are involved in the campaign to secure Palestinian independence and freedom from Israeli occupation and oppression,” reads the petition.

“Whether intentionally or otherwise, Google is making itself complicit in the Israeli government’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” it continues.

Moving to curtail rights abuses by companies

When it comes to power, think transnational corporations.

Back in March Foreign Policy published an excellent report on the power of the 21st Century corporation, including these observations:

Already, the cash that Apple has on hand exceeds the GDPs of two-thirds of the world’s countries. Firms are also setting the pace vis-à-vis government regulators in a perennial game of cat-and-mouse. After the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to discourage banks from growing excessively big and catastrophe-prone. Yet while the law crushed some smaller financial institutions, the largest banks — with operations spread across many countries — actually became even larger, amassing more capital and lending less. Today, the 10 biggest banks still control almost 50 percent of assets under management worldwide. Meanwhile, some European Union officials, including Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, are pushing for a common tax-base policy among member states to prevent corporations from taking advantage of preferential rates. But if that happened (and it’s a very big if), firms would just look beyond the continent for metanational opportunities.

The world is entering an era in which the most powerful law is not that of sovereignty but that of supply and demand. As scholar Gary Gereffi of Duke University has argued, denationalization now involves companies assembling the capacities of various locations into their global value chains. This has birthed success for companies, such as commodities trader Glencore and logistics firm Archer Daniels Midland, that don’t focus primarily on manufacturing goods, but are experts at getting the physical ingredients of what metanationals make wherever they’re needed.

Could businesses go a step further, shifting from stateless to virtual? Some people think so. In 2013, Balaji Srinivasan, now a partner at the venture-capital company Andreessen Horowitz, gave a much debated talk in which he claimed Silicon Valley is becoming more powerful than Wall Street and the U.S. government. He described “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit,” or the creation of “an opt-in society, ultimately outside the U.S., run by technology.” The idea is that because social communities increasingly exist online, businesses and their operations might move entirely into the cloud.

The U.N. ponders a move

Two years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to begin the process of regulating the way transnational corporations impact human rights.

Here’s how the vote went:

  • In favor: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam
  • Opposed: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, South Korea, Romania, Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America
  • Abstained: Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kuwait, Maldives, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, and the United Arab Emirates

The idea has won the support of more than 80 countries, though Obama’s America remains firmly opposed.

The work continues.

From the latest report from the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

The most egregious business-related human rights abuses take place in conflict-affected areas and other situations of widespread violence. Human rights abuses may spark or intensify conflict, and conflict may in turn lead to further human rights abuses. The gravity of the human rights abuses demands a response, yet in conflict zones the international human rights regime cannot possibly be expected to function as intended. Such situations require that States take action as a matter of urgency, but there remains a lack of clarity among States with regard to what innovative, proactive and, above all, practical policies and tools have the greatest potential for preventing or mitigating business-related abuses in situations of conflict. In the present report, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises outlines a range of policy options that home, host and neighbouring States have, or could develop, to prevent and deter corporate-related human rights abuses in conflict contexts.


States should warn business enterprises of the heightened risk of being involved with gross abuses of human rights in conflict-affected areas and clearly communicate their expectations with regard to business respect for human rights, even in such challenging environments. With few exceptions, States have yet to convey their expectations of business behaviour in situations of conflicts. Normally, States would convey such expectations through policies, laws and regulations. For example, in the area of anti-corruption, States in recent years have agreed upon and communicated their expectations regarding standards of business conduct with respect to bribery through international conventions and domestic policies and regulations. However, unlike anti-corruption, the existing legal and policy framework relevant to conflict-affected regions does not have a component that is specifically designed to deal with the problems of business involvement.

This lack of regulatory clarity limits the ability of States to engage or advise business enterprises regarding acceptable conduct in or connected to conflict-affected regions. Therefore, states should review whether their policies, legislation, regulations and enforcement measures effectively address the heightened risk of businesses operating in conflict situations being involved in gross human rights abuses, including through provisions for human rights due diligence by business. They should ensure that their regulatory frameworks are adequate, the applicability to business entities is clarified and, for the most extreme situation, make sure that the relevant agencies are properly resourced to address the problem of business involvement in international or transnational crimes, such as corruption, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Abby Martin interviews one of the measure’s architects

In this, the latest episode of Abby Martin’s series for teleSUR English, the San Francisco Bay Area native interviews a diplomat who played a seminal role in shaping the UN panel’s mandate.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Bringing Corporations to Justice with Ecuador’s UN Rep

Program notes:

For the first time ever, progress is being made at the United Nations for a binding legal instrument that would hold corporations accountable for human rights violations. Transnational corporations — many with larger economies than the countries they operate in — have enjoyed immunity from charges for destroying the environment and taking human lives. But Ecuador is leading a fight in the UN to create an international treaty and standards that can change this equation. At teleSUR’s studios in Quito, Abby Martin interviews Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Chair of the negotiations for the binding instrument, María Fernanda Espinosa, about the need for this step.