Democratic Ideals and Reality: An Enduring Tension

A century ago, a British member of Parliament and geographer, Halford Mackinder, wrote one of the famous books of geopolitics, Democratic Ideals and Reality. The book discussed the tension between what nations want (“democratic ideals”) and what they often get (geographic “reality”).

That tension seems especially topical this week. Read more “Democratic Ideals and Reality: An Enduring Tension”

How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century

Russian Arctic tanker
A United States Coast Guard icebreaker escorts a Russian tanker through the Bering Strait, January 6, 2012 (Coast Guard)

America is out of the environmental protection businesses; so says the haughty God-Emperor Donald Trump, whose word is apparently law.

Too bad even god-emperors cannot change facts. Too bad, especially, for the billions who are almost certain to be disrupted, displaced and decimated by the looming geopolitical effects of climate change.

That basic truth is denied heartily by many who have incentive to play games for short-term gain. These are old-school industrial concerns, for whom environmental regulation hammers a bottom line; alt-right, alt-truthers, for whom simple science is a threat to their incoherent worldview; and shattered working classes, seeking a simple scapegoat for the complicated story of their economic dissolution and disenfranchisement.

As written in Salon:

The executive order is another example of the Trump Administration’s ignoring basic facts in service of a right-wing ideology rooted mostly in a blind, irrational hatred of Obama.

Unfortunately for Trump, undoing Obama’s climate legacy will require more than the stroke of a pen.

The science of climate change is so basic, however, that it is shaping geopolitical forces on a global scale. Whether those forces will overcome the denialists remains to be seen.

Climate change will be the human event of the twenty-first century. It will be a shaping of our species unlike anything since the end of the last Ice Age. To presume that nation states, or their successors, will somehow carry on blithely in spite of it is naive in the extreme. Read more “How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century”

South Sudan is Starving Itself, But We Shouldn’t Rush to Judge

There are no famines anymore, unless people want them.

South Sudan is starving. As reported by Foreign Policy, the world’s newest country is also one of the world’s hungriest:

On February 20, the United Nations declared a famine in parts of the country, saying that some have already died from hunger and another 100,000 people are on the brink of starvation. One million more are headed toward the same fate. “Our worst fears have been realized,” Serge Tissot, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative in South Sudan, said in a news release.

In an age where Hobbsian scarcity has been nearly conquered, it is discomforting in the extreme to see starving children on HD video. Humans produce some 17 percent more food per person than thirty years ago, yet that means little to the South Sudanese.

In the cruelties of its civil war, there are key geopolitical understandings to be had in South Sudan. Why do some countries starve? How can one African country peacefully reject a dictator while another pits two democratically elected leaders into armed conflict? How much blame does the rest of the world deserve and what does this say about the future of our species? Read more “South Sudan is Starving Itself, But We Shouldn’t Rush to Judge”

Don’t Look Now, But West Africa Just Took a Huge Leap Forward

“West Africa” should really only be a geographical label, not a geopolitical one. It is a place riddled with ethnicities overlapping tribes cut by religion bisected by language. There is nothing simple about West Africa except in the minds of long-dead imperial geographers.

That hasn’t stopped Nigeria from deciding to reorder the whole region to its liking. But for once in geopolitics, this reordering has not only been largely successful but is also incrementally pushing West Africa to better governance and stronger states.

And Abuja just had a stunning success in the Gambia, a tiny river-republic that just tried and failed to hold onto the bad old ways of West African politics. Read more “Don’t Look Now, But West Africa Just Took a Huge Leap Forward”

South Sudan’s Kiir Reappoints Rival to End Violence

South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, reappointed his rival Riek Machar as vice president on Thursday in an attempt to end a year of civil war in Africa’s youngest country.

The two leaders have announced truces in the past only to see their supporters continue to fight.

It is unclear if the latest agreement, which restores the situation to where it was before last year’s outburst of violence, will be more successful.

Kiir fired Machar in late 2013 after accusing him of plotting a coup.

The conflict between the two men sparked an ethnic tussle, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer people. Thousands were killed and some two million South Sudanese were forced to flee only years after they seceded from Sudan. Read more “South Sudan’s Kiir Reappoints Rival to End Violence”

France Expands Counterterrorist Mission Across Western Sahel

France will deploy troops across the western Sahel region in what its defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, described on Thursday as a new, “counterterrorism” phase in the nation’s military operations in Africa.

Le Drian said France would reorganize its troops to “pursue counterterrorism” beyond Mali, where it intervened last year to push back an insurgency of radical Islamists and local Tuareg separatists, across the “danger zone” of western Africa.

Despite earlier promises to draw down the French troops presence to 1,000 by the end of last year, around 3,000 soldiers are now to remain in the area indefinitely to check Islamist violence and arms trafficking, Le Drian said in a television interview. “We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date.” Read more “France Expands Counterterrorist Mission Across Western Sahel”

South Sudan’s Machar Reneges on Truce

Apparently reneging on a ceasefire agreement with South Sudan’s government, former vice president Riek Machar said earlier this week he had formed a “resistance” movement to fight what he described as the “regime” of President Salva Kiir.

“We decided to organize a resistance against the regime,” Machar told Voice of America in a telephone interview, adding that he wants to see free elections and political pluralism take hold in Africa’s youngest country.

“So, yes, if you heard troops in Upper Nile, in Jonglei, in Unity States, in Equatoria saying what I am saying, yes, we are now an organized resistance against the regime,” he said. Read more “South Sudan’s Machar Reneges on Truce”

South Sudan Government, Rebels Agree to Ceasefire

Representatives of South Sudan’s government agreed to a ceasefire with rebels on Thursday, ending more than five weeks of fighting in Africa’s youngest country.

The agreement, which came after weeks of talks in neighboring Ethiopia, calls for an immediate end to military operations and freezes forces in the “place they are in.”

It follows the government’s retaking of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state, earlier this week. Government forces were joined by troops from Uganda to reclaim the oil-producing provinces in the north.

South Sudan’s daily output of 245,000 barrels of oil supplies almost all government revenues and hard currency to buy food and other imports.

Fighting erupted in South Sudan, which seceded from the Arab north in July 2011, between troops local to President Salva Kiir and those backing his former vice president, Riek Machar, in December. Kiir had dismissed Machar after accusing him of plotting a coup.

Making the ceasefire hold could test Machar whose forces are not under a unified command. Some may not feel bound by the truce, especially as the conflict has turned along ethnic fault lines, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer people.

Central Africans Name Interim Leader, Europe to Send Troops

European foreign minister agreed to deploy hundreds of soldiers to the Central African Republic on Monday, the same day the country named an interim president to lead it out of months of sectarian conflict.

The Christian mayor of the capital city Bengui, Catherine Samba-Panza, succeeds Michel Djotodia, a Muslim and former rebel leader who stepped down earlier this month under intense French and international pressure. She was elected by a transitional assembly and immediately called on Christian militias to lay down their arms.

France, the former colonial power, intervened in the Central African Republic in December after hundreds of Bengui’s residents had been killed by armed gangs in a matter of days. Read more “Central Africans Name Interim Leader, Europe to Send Troops”

Central African Republic Violence Continues After President Resigns

The Central African Republic’s acting president, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, ordered the deployments of hundreds more troops in the capital Bangui on Monday with instructions to shoot troublemakers “at point blank range” days after former rebel leader Michel Djotodia resigned the office.

Despite Friday’s resignation of Djotodia, who led mainly Muslim rebels from the north in a coup against Christian president François Bozizé last year, violence between the two religious groups has continued. Waves of ethnic killings and reprisals have killed hundreds, if not thousands, creating a “nearly impossible” situation, France’s envoy to the United Nations, Gérard Araud, said on Wednesday.

Not all of the fighters who supported Djotodia have heeded to his call to lay down their arms. Wanton attacks on members of the country’s majority Christian population prompted them to organize in militias as well while some of the armed Muslim groups also battle among themselves. Read more “Central African Republic Violence Continues After President Resigns”