Cement, cigarettes, and sugar are just a few of the goods transported through the many underground tunnels connecting Egypt and the blockaded Gaza Strip, which have often been described as a "vital lifeline." Now, thanks to an entrepreneurial Gaza-based delivery service, we can add a new -- if not entirely vital -- product to the list: Kentucky Fried Chicken.
That's right, although there is no KFC in Gaza (the first one in the West Bank city of Ramallah opened just last year), Gazans can now get their beloved Colonel Sanders fix from Egypt. As China's Xinhua news agency reports:
The fried chicken make their way from one of the many underground smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.
Mohammed Al-Madani, an accountant at Al-Yamama company, said they started their new business by chance. "We ordered and arranged to bring some meals for us and they arrive after four hours," he said.
Then they posted a picture for the fast food on their company's website, and soon got more orders from the people in Gaza, he introduced....
"It's delicious even as it's not hot," said Aboud Fares, a 22- year-old student, as he bit a mouthful of a chicken breast. His sister, who traveled several times to Egypt, was enjoying the KFC apple pie.
While Al-Madani aknowledges that Al-Yamama doesn't face many obstacles in getting the fast food combos from Egypt to Gaza, he says occasional delays are inevitable. "Sometimes Hamas checks the meal boxes and sometimes the taxi that picks up the orders from Sinai is late," he told Xinhua.
The company gets the word out by posting on its Facebook page each time it is making a run. And just in case you're interested, the next delivery of "Kentucky," as Al-Yamama affectionately calls it, is tomorrow. So hurry up and place your order (the deadline is Thursday at 6 pm, Gaza time).
Image via Al-Yamama Facebook Page
As Barack Obama heads to Mexico, U.S. involvement in Mexico's battle against drug cartels is getting a lot of press. But it's worth noting that Mexico's notorious narcotics trade isn't just Mexico's problem anymore. And Obama should be well aware of that, considering that this past February Chicago declared Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán its first "Public Enemy No. 1" since Al Capone. "While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in the city that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are on the border," Jack Riley, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office, told CNN.
The infiltration of the Windy City shows the extent to which Mexican drug syndicates have made inroads in the United States -- the Associated Press and others have reported that cartel cells are operating in Atlanta, Ga., Louisville, Ky., Columbus, Ohio, and rural North Carolina. In fact, according to an excellent National Post infographic based on data from a U.S. Justice Department report and other sources, it's much easier to list states that don't have a drug trade tied to Mexican gangs. There are only twelve that haven't reported the presence of one of four Mexican cartels since 2008: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Mexican drug trade is everywhere else.
Detected cartel operations range from traditional drug-running to using a horse ranch as a front for laundering drug money, as one group did in Oklahoma. The Sinaloa cartel, which has emerged as Mexico's dominant syndicate, has carved out new territory in the United States by controlling 80 percent of its meth trade (Mexican cartels have come to dominate the U.S. market by aggressively bumping up the purity of their meth while dropping the price per gram).
All told, Mexican cartels reside in 1,200 American communities as of 2011, up from 230 in 2008, according to the Associated Press. Below is a map that shows just how many states have been penetrated, according to the National Post's special report on the topic.
View Cartel Penetration in the US in a larger map
Fraying cooperation in the drug war will surely be top of mind as President Obama meets with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico this week. And perhaps nothing encapsulates Mexico's growing impatience with America's heavy-handed approach to combating drug trafficking than this nugget from a New York Times report on Tuesday. Apparently, the United States has been subjecting Mexican security officials to regular polygraph tests in an effort to identify rotten apples. But that could soon change:
Shortly after Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in December, American agents got a clear message that the dynamics, with Washington holding the clear upper hand, were about to change.
"So do we get to polygraph you?" one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts, alarming United States security officials who consider the vetting of the Mexicans central to tracking down drug kingpins. The Mexican government briefly stopped its vetted officials from cooperating in sensitive investigations. The Americans are waiting to see if Mexico allows polygraphs when assigning new members to units, a senior Obama administration official said.
While the practice is not widely publicized, it has been an element of the two countries' security relationship for some time. In a 1997 article on U.S.-Mexican plans to join hands in the drug war, the Associated Press noted that Mexican counternarcotics agents would undergo the "kind of extensive background, financial, and polygraph tests required of U.S. drug agents." The plans came after the arrest of Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, for taking bribes from drug traffickers.
What's more, the United States hasn't just applied this policy to Mexico. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Washington has given elite Colombian counternarcotics agents polygraph tests as well.
The bad blood over polygraph tests isn't the only sign that U.S.-Mexican cooperation on the drug war is deteriorating. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE on his new book, the Mexican journalist Jesús Esquivel claimed that the Mexican military recently waved off a U.S. offer to capture famed drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Gúzman. The United States had the Sinaloa cartel chief's location and said the operation would take only 15 minutes. So why the hang-up? Mexican military officials reportedly didn't want the American military to lead the operation.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Journalists have had their hands full this week with reports of Iran's fake time machine, not to mention the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that shook the country's south. But somehow, in all the excitement, an Iranian proposal to annex Azerbaijan went largely unnoticed.
On Tuesday, Iran's Fars news agency reported that Azerbaijani-speaking lawmakers in Iran had introduced a bill to re-annex their neighbor to the north. Iran lost Azerbaijan in 1828 -- "The most frustrating chapter in the history class!" Fars laments -- when it was forced to sign the Turkmenchay treaty, ceding the territory to Russia. The legislators propose revisiting the terms of the treaty, which, according to Fars, means "the 17 cities and regions that Iran had lost to the Russians would be given back to Iran after a century."
For its part, Azerbaijan has told Iran to "bring it" -- diplomatically speaking. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Siyavush Novruzov of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party has declared that revisiting the treaty would result not in Azerbaijan being annexed to Iran, but rather in Tehran ceding its northwestern territory to Azerbaijan.
While all this may sound like the makings of an international showdown in a strategically sensitive region, here's the comforting part: in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both sides have repeatedly brandished the treaty as an empty threat. Take a look at this January 1992 edition of one Kentucky daily:
Screenshot of the Kentucky New Era
Or a December 2011 headline from Azer News that reads, "MP wants to 'annex Azeri territory to Iran.'"
On the other side of the border, Azerbaijan has threatened more than once to reclaim the region in Iran known as "Southern Azerbaijan." And as we wrote in February 2012, minority lawmakers in Baku have even provocatively suggested changing the country's name to "Northern Azerbaijan," implying ownership over the Iranian territory to the south.
Writing in Foreign Affairs in January, Iran expert Alex Vatanka explained why, despite significant cultural and linguistic overlap, the two countries remain tense neighbors. After securing independence in 1991, Azerbaijan failed to become the close Shiite ally that Tehran wanted, he notes. And since 2003, Vatanka adds, "Baku has grown both considerably richer -- thanks to revenues from energy exports -- and noticeably bolder in its foreign policy."
This boldness -- which includes the purchase of weapons and technology from Israel in exchange for granting the country a foothold on the Iranian border -- has driven an increasingly substantial wedge between Azerbaijan and Iran. In other words, don't be surprised if we see this headline crop up again ... and again and again.
The 85th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, and as folks in Hollywood begin to prepare with juice cleanses and facials, international contenders have a somewhat different if equally complicated road to awards night. Wednesday, Palestinian director of 5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, was detained in LAX, where security threatened to deport him if the Oscar-nominated filmmaker couldn't provide physical evidence of his invitation to the awards show.
The West Bank olive-farmer turned director is the first Palestinian ever to be nominated in the documentary category after he used cameras to chronicle his nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. Traveling with his wife and son, Burnat was held by immigration for 45 minutes and only released after he sent a text message to fellow filmmaker, Michael Moore, who later tweeted about the incident:
"It's nothing I'm not already used to," he told me later. "When u live under occupation, with no rights, this is a daily occurrence."— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 20, 2013
Detaining a Palestinian filmmaker who happens to be buddies with Michael Moore probably wasn't the best PR move on the part of US Customs and Border Patrol. In addition to tweeting frantically about the occurrence, Moore has also updated his website with the statements of both directors.
This isn't the first time a foreign participant has had trouble getting to the show. In 2009, Indian singer Sukhwinder Singh, who was set to perform "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, was unable to make it to awards night after the Academy failed to send the requisite letter of invitation he needed to obtain a visa.
In a different category, there's Roman Polanski's infamous no show when he won best director for The Pianist in 2003. The director feared being arrested if he entered the US after fleeing from a sexual abuse charge in 1978.
This year, Rachel Mwanza, the Congolese star of the Canadian nominated feature film, War Witch, had to interview with U.S. authorities to prove she wouldn't remain in the country illegally after the show. The sixteen-year-old actor was only just granted a visa, three days before the ceremony -- incidentally the same amount of time it takes to complete a pre-Oscar juice cleanse.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
When the government of the Philippines announced last month it was taking China to court over territorial claims in the South China Sea, it was seen by some as a surprising but savvy move -- a first step toward establishing some sort of law and order in East Asia's waters, which, up until now have been a sort of aquatic Wild West, with nations planting flags on rocks, roping off shoals, and building up tiny reefs to stake their claims.
The hearing was to determine the validity of China's claims to a wide swath of ocean that encompasses waters near the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, among other countries. Manila even generated some buzz by hiring D.C. lawyer Paul Reichler to argue its case, a man who's made his name as a "giant-slayer" in the world of international law for his often-successful track record of suing the U.S. Russia, and Britain on behalf of countries like Nicaragua, Georgia and Mauritius.
Then, on Tuesday, China made clear it had no plans to participate in any international court arbitration. Though the hearing will go on without China's participation, the decision, some may think, doesn't bode well for hopes that China might abide by a ruling that doesn't go its way.
Still, Reichler, who was hired by the Philippines last year, thinks the rising power could come around.
"They're very smart people," he said in an interview last week. "And I think they might come to understand that in the long run their best interests are served by being a responsible member of the international community."
Reichler's faith in the power of international law to wrangle even the largest of powers comes from his success suing the United States. He took America to The Hague on behalf of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, over U.S. support of the Contras, and won -- an effort that earned him the ire of figures like John McCain. As a result of the victory - and the international pressure that accompanied it -- he says, Congress cut off funding for Contra support.
"It's a very high cost to prestige to be branded as an international wrongdoer and then not comply," he said.
The decision not to take part in the arbitration is "unfortunate," Reichler said in an email (China has long said it doesn't want to its territorial conflicts "internationalized"). "They had an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the international legal order, to show respect for its procedures, and to agree to be bound by its rules. Had they seized this chance, they would have proven that they are not only a great power, but a responsible one."
But the pressure on Beijing to comply with an unfavorable ruling - even if it doesn't participate - will still be there, Reichler said.
"To me, China has always denounced imperialism, denounced unilateralism, has denounced violations of the U.N. Charter," he said. "This is an opportunity for China to really show its true colors."
Protests against government austerity measures have been spreading rapidly throughout Khartoum today, with Reuters reporting at least seven separate demonstrations in the Sudanese capital throughout the day. The number of protesters have grown substantially since yesterday, when Egyptian journalist Salma Elwardany reported a crowd of about 200 outside the University of Khartoum. 400 to 500 protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers in one suburb alone.
Elwardany was detained by security forces, as was activist Maha El-Senosy (who has been tweeting under the handle @MimzicalMimz) of the youth movement Girifna (@Girifna), or "Fed Up." Both have since been released. IRIN News reported that at least 100 people had been arrested in connection with the demonstrations as of June 20.
According to Reuters:
"The police fired tear gas and then used batons as they clashed with the protesters, who threw rocks. Witnesses said men in civilian clothes also attacked the demonstrators."
Rumors that Internet will be cut off have been circulating among the protesters via Twitter, under the hashtag #SudanRevolts, as activists attempt to circulate instructions for accessing social media via mobile phone. Other protesters have uploaded pictures that appear to show protesters blocking the streets with burning tires. Reuters reported that smaller protests have also broken out in Bahri, a suburb of Khartoum, but that they were quickly dispersed by heavy security presence.
Sudan currently has a budget deficit of about $2.4 billion, and inflation reached nearly 80 percent in May. Bashir's austerity measures include devaluing the Sudanese pound by nearly 50 percent, removing fuel subsidies and cutting back government by up to 50 percent. Austerity measures were implemented in order to cope with the loss of 75 percent of Sudan's oil production after South Sudan seceded in July 2011, taking the majority of the region's oil fields with it.
Despite calls by opposition groups for an uprising, Sudan has avoided the kind of demonstrations seen in neighboring Egypt and Libya last year.... so far.
The first plane carrying South Sudanese "returnees" out of Israel arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on June 19.
Amidst escalating tensions over African migration to Israel, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai described the eventual "return to their homes and countries" of [migrants] as "inevitable." Of Israel's 60,000 African migrants, the majority come from Eritrea and the two Sudans.
Greeting the plane in Juba, Joseph Lual Achuil, South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, claimed that the process of return was voluntary: "People are not being deported. We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated," he said. While ‘returnees' are being offered a stipend of $1300 per adult and $500 per child by the Israeli government, the degree to which repatriation is truly a matter of choice is debatable.
While those who left Israel on the first plane volunteered to do so, the crackdown, known under the code name "Operation Going Home," has rounded up and arrested hundreds of migrants so far. The usually bustling neighborhood of ‘Little Africa' in South Tel Aviv is reportedly deserted. New laws allowing migrants to be jailed for up to three years without trial or deportation came into effect on June 3. In addition, any Israeli citizen harboring or helping migrants can now face jail time of up to 15 years.
The current government campaign to stem the flow of African migrants has begun with newly independent South Sudan -- the only one of the top three source countries which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.
Many South Sudanese fled to Israel to escape the ongoing violence at home, often crossing the Sinai desert from Egypt by foot to reach Israel. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that 1,500 South Sudanese are no longer at risk in their homeland and can be returned home, giving the government the legal right to deport them.
Recent months have seen protests and acts of vandalism targeting African communities in Israel, an atmosphere that many claim has been instigated by the comments of some politicians. The deportation drive is also creating immense discomfort amongst many Israeli citizens, who are acutely of aware of their own identity as an immigrant nation founded by Jews fleeing persecution in Europe after World War II.
The subtext beneath the deportation process is a racial argument that cuts to the core of competing views about what Israel's identity as a ‘Jewish state' should entail. For the current government, identity is clearly framed by ethno-religious demographics. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues:
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
Whether such a view can be justified as commensurate with Jewish values remains to be decided.
What is it this summer with East Asia and contested islands? June and July saw the resumption of a longstanding dispute involving China and a handful of Southeast Asian countries over the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea.
Now, it's Japan and South Korea who are feuding. Yesterday, South Korea barred entry to three Japanese lawmakers who flew into Seoul to travel to the Liancourt Rocks, a chain of volcanic islets between the two countries under dispute since the end of World War II. The politicians, all members of the Japanese diet, had announced their trip in late July, a month after Korean Air routed a test flight of a new aircraft over the island chain. Japan responded at the time by instituting a one-month boycott of Korean Air flights among its diplomats, and the latest trip had been intended as a means to reassert Japanese sovereignty over the islands.
Provocations over the Liancourt Rocks dispute are a fairly regular gesture from South Korean and Japanese politicians looking to curry favor among nationalists at home. But South Korea's posturing also attracts support from a surprising source: North Korea. Kim Jong-Il's regime tends to echo its neighbors to the south when the Liancourt Rocks dispute crops up, according to the Diplomat.
This time was no different. On July 20, a characteristically thundering commentary on Uriminzokkiri, North Korea's official website, condemned Japan for its latest plans to infringe upon Korean sovereignty. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency translates from the statement:
"We are determined to take 1,000 times our people's revenge for Japan's reactionary moves, which, far from apologizing or compensating for the immeasurable unhappiness and pain inflicted upon our people, only scheme to take away our land....
"The entire people must unite to resolutely crush the scheme to seize Dokdo, in order that the Japanese reactionaries may never again set sight on our land. This is our generation's demand and the call of the people."
The lawmakers' actual visit occasioned a reiteration of the North Korean stance from the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Unification of Korea. The committee also takes a swipe at South Korea's "passive approach" in resolving the dispute. Once again, from Yonhap:
"The Japanese reactionaries' recent moves are serious issues not to be tolerated by the Korean nation as they revealed once again their ambition to seize Ullung Island and Tok Islets, inalienable parts of the territory of Korea. ...
"It is due to the present South Korean ruling forces' servile attitude toward Japan ... that the Japanese reactionaries are set to visit the Tok Islets like their own land."
Also going down in the annals of uncharacteristic recent behavior from North Korea: After allowing the establishment of an AP bureau in Pyongyang earlier this year, the North Korean government allowed two AP photographers unusually wide access to tour both Pyongyang and the North Korean countryside, albeit with minders. The Atlantic has culled the best of their photos here and they're worth a look.
A two square mile patch of grassland on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, surrounding the 11th-century Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, has been a regional flashpoint for decades. The skirmishes have escalated in recent years and both countries maintain hundreds of troops along the border. But the fighting could quiet down soon if the sides agree to a ruling today by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice. The court declared that a demilitarized zone should be established immediately in the region surrounding the temple, outlined here in diagrams from the Bangkok Post. The two countries have indicated they would abide by the decision.
With the U.N. ruling, the area surrounding Preah Vihear joins a handful of other demilitarized zones around the world. The most famous of these has divided North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The zone has played an important role maintaining the uneasy peace between the two countries, while also serving as a surprisingly effective wildlife refuge for a number of northeast Asia's endangered species. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the buffer zone established under U.N. control in 1974 between Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a breakaway region recognized only by Turkey.
Israel also deals with its share of DMZs -- one at the Golan Heights, where U.N. forces have maintained the ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974, and one at the Sinai Peninsula. But the latter now contains Egyptian soldiers deployed with Israel's permission during the chaos of the Arab Spring, after Bedouin tribesmen started bombing gas lines in the region to protest their treatment at the hands of the Egyptian government. Israel imports 40 percent of its gas from Egypt.
Looking for the next emerging DMZ? The two Sudans agreed in late May to set up a demilitarized zone along their border, but the details are still very much in the works. Conflict continues to brew over the contested region of Abyei, which lies in the middle of the border. Without a resolution to the dispute, the DMZ there could be a long ways off.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
The latest candidate to jump into the 2012 French presidential race has quite a background - once a beauty queen and au pair, later a muckraking prosecutor, and now a member of the European Parliament for the Green-Europe Ecology party. But the most striking part about 67-year-old Eva Joly's past may be a citizenship record that would make Donald Trump's hair spin. From the Guardian:
Born in a working-class suburb in Norway, she came to Paris as a young au pair to finance her legal studies and ended up marrying the son of the bourgeois family she was posted to, despite their disapproval. She now holds joint Norwegian-French nationality and will be the first dual national to run for the French presidency.
This April, we explored how, in many countries worldwide, it's perfectly legal for individuals who were not native-born or who have dual citizenship to serve in the country's highest offices. For instance, Thailand's Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is also a British citizen, which reportedly could put him in legal trouble for alleged human rights abuses from last year's Red Shirt protest movement. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, forced out of office by a Hezbollah-backed uprising in January, has Lebanese and Saudi citizenship.
Joly's dual citizenship should create an interesting side story during election season in France, whose government was a key proponent of the changes in the Schengen agreement this summer targeted at restricting illegal immigration into Europe. She probably won't get elected, but, with a reputation for speaking her mind, she'll at least make for some fireworks.
MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images
As defense analysts focus on escalating tensions in the South China Sea, recent events in Nepal confirm that China's geopolitical influence is growing in South Asia as well. From a report yesterday by the AP:
Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's birthday on Wednesday over concerns that gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.…
Nepal says it cannot allow protests on its soil against any friendly nations, including China.
Police guarded the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu against any protests, and areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.
Authorities earlier said they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from around the world are planning to fly into Tel Aviv's airport in hopes of traveling to the West Bank. Over 700 people have already scheduled flights and as many as 1,200 are expected to arrive at Ben-Gurion between Thursday and Friday. Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's Public Security Minister, responded to the planned ‘aerial flotilla', saying:
"These hooligans who try to break our laws will not be allowed into the country and will be returned immediately to their home countries."
Five activists have already been arrested upon arrival. While airport security is on high alert, activists like Nicolas Sheshni say there is no plan to riot or cause disruption:
"We have no intention of staging a political protest inside Israeli territory. We only want to tour Palestine and show solidarity with the Palestinian people."
Sheshni and 300 other French activists hope to plant olive trees in Ramallah and tour the ancient city of Bethlehem. Travelers usually conceal their intent to travel to the West Bank for fear of facing immediate deportation. But in the next several days, many activists will declare Palestine as their final destination, protesting their lack of ability to visit Palestinian friends and family. Dozens of Israeli security forces are now stationed at Ben-Gurion. Friday flights from Europe will be directed to a separate terminal and passengers will undergo thorough immigration procedures.
Netanyahu defended Israel's plan to deport the activists:
"Every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs and trouble-makers into its territory. That is how all countries behave and that is how Israel will act. We must prevent the disruption of normal life for Israeli citizens."
Maritime efforts of pro-Palestinian activists have been paralyzed in Greek ports, but who knows what the skies will hold in the coming days.
llee_wu via Flickr Creative Commons
If Southern Sudan successfully secedes, will other African pseudo-states follow suit? Guest-blogging at the Christian Science Monitor, Alex Thurston takes a look at Somaliland:
There is one other region in Africa that appears within reach of independent nationhood: Somaliland, which has claimed independence since 1991. Somaliland has its own government and enjoys a greater degree of stability than other regions of Somalia. Recently Somaliland successfully transferred power from one democratically elected leader to another, reinforcing democratic credentials that outshine those of many independent African nations. As crisis continues in southern and central Somalia, moreover, the US and other Western powers are showing greater willingness to consider recognizing Somaliland or at least treating it, de facto, as its own nation.
He also links to an Economist interview with Somaliland's foreign minister, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, discussing the referendum (my emphasis):
If the international community accepts South Sudan’s independence, that opens the door for us as well. It would mean that the principle that African borders should remain where they were at the time of independence would change. It means that if Southern Sudan can go their way, that should open the door for Somaliland’s independence as well and that the international position that Somaliland not be recognised separate from Somalia has changed.
I'm skeptical that the international community's support for Southern Sudanese independence sets much of a precedent outside Sudan. There was similar talk of nationalist movements being emboldened immediately after Kosovo declared independence in 2008, including talk about Somaliland.
The fact is, new states tend to be recognized by the international community on a case by case basis, and the laws and norms governing who gets to be a country are remarkably arbitrary. Precedents are far less important than they appear. Kosovo and Southern Sudan both had the advantage of having recently been at war with regimes accused of crimes against humanity. The Kremlin may have claimed that Kosovo's independence was a precedent for its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia several months later, but it actually had a lot more to do with things coming to a head between Russia and Georgia.
So I don't think Southern Sudan's positive reception indicates an urge to redraw more African borders, no matter how problematic those borders are. (See Bill Easterly's new paper on the artificial states problem.) Somaliland may have a good case for independence, but it will have to get there on its own.
Tajikistan has agreed to give up a chunk of its territory to neighboring China:
Parliament voted Wednesday in favor of giving up around 1,000 square kilometers of land in the Central Asian nation's sparsely populated Pamir Mountains region. There was no immediate information on how many people live in the territory to be ceded.
Opposition leader Mukhiddin Kabiri said the land transfer is unconstitutional and represents a defeat for Tajik diplomacy. But Foreign Minister Khamrokon Zarifi portrayed it as a victory, saying China had initially claimed more than 11,000 square miles (28,000 square kilometers).
The dispute dates to the 19th Century, when Tajikistan was part of Czarist Russia.
It seems a little bit petty of China to be engaging in a land dispute with a country that could fit inside it 67 times, but every little bit helps I suppose. The Pamirs are in quite an interesting spot geopolitically, running from eastern Afghanistan and straddling the Tajikistan-Pakistan border all the way to China.
This has been a week of expansionism for China, which was accused by India of sending troops into a disputed region of Kashmir earlier this week, although Beijing denies it.
A heartwarming scene from The Red Balloon it was not: when South Korean schoolchildren launched fifty balloons into the sky on Thursday, no one stopped to oh and ah. The man who spotted the air-borne rubber fleet twenty miles outside the capital city Seoul mistook the colorful orbs for parachutes and instantly raised the alarm. A military and police investigation was quickly mounted, only to conclude that the would-be North Korean invaders were in fact the steadily deflating remains of a local school celebration.
The incident is one more laugh for international observers -- and one more sign of just how high tensions are running in South Korea in the wake of the March 26 explosion of the Cheonan. (This isn't the first false alarm on the Peninsula in recent weeks: the discovery of an abandoned diving suit on the heels of an unexplained coastal explosion set police on high alert. Thankfully -- or just embarrassingly -- investigators concluded nothing was awry.)
But for South Korean security officials, it's better safe than sorry: facing strong criticism within the country for their mishandling of the Cheonan incident, top military leaders stepped down, and remaining forces pledged to improve their level of responsiveness.
(Balloons have been the source of Korean controversy before: read about this defector's helium-powered propaganda.)
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Poor Nigeria. As if it didn't already have a terrible reputation, the alleged terror attempt by a 23-year-old Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab yesterday on a flight from Amsterdam to Detriot seals the deal. But as you're reading the news, a few caveats to remember:
First, much of the information coming out about the suspect's origin comes from the Nigerian newspaper This Day. While often a good source of initial information, this report probably shouldn't be taken as fact without other confirmation. The press in Nigeria, while vibrant, growing, and home to countless incredible journalists, has still been known to exagerate or assume at times. I have no reason to believe that is the case this time, but skepticism is warranted.
Second, if the suspect does indeed come from a family of means, as his residence in London suggests (forgive a generalization, but anyone who is anyone in Nigeria has got a house in London), it says much about where the real terror "threat" is (and is not) coming from in Nigeria. Security analysts have been worrying about Nigeria since the Sept 11. attacks -- fearing that this about half-Muslim country of 140 million people would be a potential host to extremists. But at the end of the day, something that I've learned about Nigeria is that it takes money and connections to get things done. Just think back to the violence earlier this summer by the Boko Haram sect. The mostly-impoverished members of the group raised hell in the local context ... but that was it. Taking "jihad" international from Nigeria is still a long ways and a lot of financing off (if it is on the way at all).
Which brings me to one more point about extremism in Nigeria. Much of the religious violence that the country has seen in recent years has been less about religion and more about a country rife with corruption and wanting for institutions. When sharia law was introduced in the North earlier this decade, most analysts believe that it had more to do with a desire for the law -- any law -- to function. Since the secular government had failed for years, many sought refuge in the laws of religious fundamentalism.
And that brings us back to the alleged terrorist in questioning today. His grievances are different from these, one might imagine, since the lack of rule of law often works in favor of (rather than against) the elite. In short, what I'm trying to say is that there are two different phenomena going on here: mass dissatisfaction among many impoverished in the country's Muslim North, and the different brand of extremism that would incite a well-off 23-year-old to blow up a plane in Detroit.
Finally, in the time that I've written this blog post, I have recieved several requests from news agencies and papers to help me connect them with reporters in Nigeria. An unfortunate reminder that the press in my former-resident country is drying up. And with each correspondent that leaves, it is trickier and trickier to piece together developments that unfold. For the last two years, editors have asked me why Nigeria matters. Case and point.
Fazal Haque Qureshi, the senior-most Kashmiri separatist leader and an executive member of the moderate separatist Hurriyat Conference, has been shot in the head today by guerrillas and is in "very critical" condition. The shooting comes just two days after India's home minister announced the possibility of taking the "risky step" of withdrawing a "significant" number of Indian troops from the region. On multiple occassions, violence has derailed diplomatic efforts. Just over a year ago, a coordinated series of shootings in Mumbai resulted in the murder of 166 civilians; a number of analysts argued that attack was an effort by extremists seeking to stop any improvement in relations between India and Pakistan.
Demilitarization of the contested region has been one of the most consistent demands of the separatists. But it's not something to bank on, said Teresita Schaffer, the director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an interview with FP:
The Indian government is going to be wary of troop withdrawals unless they see movement on the Pakistani side, and unless they also see a return to the previous low levels of infiltration...if you're wondering whether there's a serious commitment to accommodate Kashmiri desires in Kahmir on the part of the government of India, I would qualify that very heavily. I think they would very much like to reach a state of affairs where Kashmiris were willing to participate in elections, and became somewhat more content with being ruled by India. They are not prepared to make major changes in policy in the attempt."
The implications of today's shooting for the ongoing Indian-Kashmiri talks depend on the separatists' reaction, Shaffer concluded. Here's hoping that the negotiations proceed apace - it's a conflict with stakes as high as they come.
Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
A new study from the University of Haifa finds that animals on either side of the Israel-Jordanian border exhibit different characteristics and behaviors:
The first study inspected the reptile population and revealed that the number of reptiles is similar on both sides, but the variety of species in the sandy areas of Jordan is significantly higher than the variety found in the sands of Israel. A second study revealed that Israeli gerbils are more cautious than their Jordanian friends, while a third study showed that the funnel-digging ant lion population in Israel is unmistakably larger than in Jordan.
According to the researchers, the differences between Israel and Jordan are primarily in the higher level of agriculture and the higher number of agricultural farms in Israel as opposed to Jordan's agriculture that is primarily based on nomadic shepherding and traditional farming. The agricultural fields on the Israeli side of the border not only create a gulf between habitats and thereby cause an increase in the number of species in the region, but they also hail one of the most problematic of intruders in the world: the red fox. On the Jordanian side, the red fox is far less common, so that Jordanian gerbils can allow themselves to be more carefree.
This follows an amazing Wall Street Journal story from two weeks ago describing how red deer still refuse to cross the German-Czech border, 20 years after an electric fence was taken down. The U.S.-Mexico border fence is also proving disruptive to migration patterns several species.
Arbitrary political constructions though they may be, national borders are becoming natural ones as well.
Earlier today, Yoani
Sanchez posted questions to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro regarding U.S.-Cuban relations on her blog, Generación Y. Sanchez, who was recently denied a visa
to visit New York City to attend an awards dinner after she was awarded
a Marie Moors Cabot Prize from the Columbia University Graduate School
of Journalism, received a direct response from Obama himself.
Obama addresses each point with steadfast poise, sticking to his administration's usual positions on the topic. He categorizes Cuban affairs as a domestic and foreign policy issue for the U.S. and emphasizes democratic rule, freedom of speech, and human rights, familiar rhetoric from the president. He also does not rule out a visit to the island in the future, not to work on his tan, but rather as a "diplomatic tool":
I look forward to visit a Cuba in which all citizens enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other citizens in the hemisphere.No word yet if Castro intends to reply. However, his mind may be on other things after Human Rights Watch's release of the report "New Castro, Same Cuba," condemning his regime:
In his three years in power, Raúl Castro has been just as brutal as his brother. Cubans who dare to criticize the government live in perpetual fear, knowing they could wind up in prison for merely expressing their views.Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images
The section of the E.U.'s recently released fact-finding report (more here) on the 2008 Georgia war that deals with the question of South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence is also worth taking a look at:
Both South Ossetians and Abkhaz consider their right to self-determination as the legal basis for their quest for sovereignty and independence of the respective territories. However, international law does not recognise a right to unilaterally create a new state based on the principle of self-determination outside the colonial context and apartheid. An extraordinary acceptance to secede under extreme conditions such as genocide has so far not found general acceptance. As will be shown later, the case of the conflict in August 2008 and the ensuing recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Mission has found that genocide did not take place.
Furthermore, much of international state practice and the explicit views of major powers such as Russia in the Kosovo case stand against it. This applies also to the process of dismemberment of a stae, as might be sdiscussed with regard to Georgia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. According to the overwhelmingly accepted uti possidetis principle, only former consituent republics such as Georgia but not territorial sub-units such as South Ossetia or Abkhazia are granted independence in case of dismemberment of a larger entity such as the former Soviet Union. Hence, South Ossetia did not have the right to secede from Georgia...
It's interesting that they raise the example of Kosovo. I can't help thinking that this very same argument could apply their declaration of independence. I wouldn't be surprised if the Serbian government seized on this report in their campaign to have Kosovo's Unilateral Declaration of Independence deemed illegitimate.
Somalia may generally be thought of as a source of refugees, but fierce conflict in Ethiopia is sending more and more refugees into the country with predictably negative effects. There's recently been a large increase in street children and a rise in gang conflict in the city of Hargeisa, which is often an initial stopping point for immigrants seeking to travel further into Somalia or Yemen.
Children flocking to Hargeisa join Somali kids in searching for the most basic necessities, using any means necessary to find their next meal off the streets. Current estimates claim there to be about 3,000 children, most of them boys between five and 18, living on Hargeisa's streets. Lacking families and home environments many of these children cling to gangs as a source of fraternity and stability. In the past two years, approximately 5,000 knives and weapons, commonly used in robberies, have been recovered from street children. Mohamed Ismail Hirsi, Hargeisa's Central Police Station commander recently stated:
"In the last 72 hours, we have arrested more than 30 street children who have committed crimes such as stealing mobile phones in different parts of the town."
Increased crime by these young boys is complicated further by the fact that a 2008 juvenile justice law has yet to be implemented, forcing these children to be charged and processed as adult perpetrators.
I must say, this is pretty ballsy:
Police in the Mexican border city of Tijuana say they have arrested six men for stealing pieces of the U.S. border fence to sell as scrap metal. [...]
The first two men caught cutting into the fence on Monday. An alleged accomplice was detained Tuesday with 11 pieces of fencing. The U.S. Border Patrol alerted police to three more suspects.
Police said Wednesday in a statement that the men may face federal charges because the fence area is considered federal property.
There really wasn't a less guarded fence in all of Tijuana?
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The perception among many Canadians is that today's U.S. border officers are meaner. The reality is that they are likely to be younger, under more pressure and – should you give them a reason – yes, meaner....
The report notes that the U.S. border patrol has been on a massive recruiting drive, meaning more agents with less experience.
And of course there's that whole terrorism thing keeping everyone on edge. In an incident feeding the mean image, Canadian Desiderio Fortunato was pepper-sprayed by a U.S. border agent after refusing to turn off his car until the officer said "please." According to the Globe and Mail, Transport Canada puts the cost to the transportation industry of increased security at $550 million per year.Though the image of the brutish U.S. border guard may be easier for both countries to imagine, Canada has been cracking down too. As many Americans are discovering to their shock, old misdemeanors, especially DUIs are causing them to be turned away by Canada. Any conviction considered a crime in either country is grounds for denial of entry.
I knew I should have paid my old parking tickets.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
With the glut of new information about "enhanced interrogations" and the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody -- the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee reports especially -- it's been very hard to keep track of who knew what and when.
To help sort it all out, I created a timeline showing new information in italics.
Look for more today...
Here at FP, we don't always pay much attention to U.S. domestic policy, obviously, and the tax-day tea parties confused us a bit. Why weren't the protesters dressed up as Native Americans (like in the Boston Tea Party) or Mad Hatters? Weren't top-bracket taxes higher under Reagan?
Regardless, we've glommed onto a U.S. domestic issue which suggests a foreign-policy disaster: the U.S. state of Texas threatening to secede. Texas Governor Rick Perry, angered, like the tea-bag-partiers, over Obama's spending and tax policies, has implied that Texas might leave the Union.
So what would Texas look like as a foreign country?
It would be the world's thirteenth largest economy -- bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.
On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn't look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country -- though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)
So, Texas would need to court Mexico and Central American nations as a trading partners and protectors. Those very nations would also pose a host of problems for Texas. President Perry might find friends in anti-U.S. nations like Venezuela and Cuba, but their socialist politics would rankle the libertarian nation.
And Texas would become a conduit for drugs moving north to the United States from Mexico, maybe even becoming a narco-state. It would need to invest heavily in its own military and policing force to stop drug violence within its borders -- taking away valuable resources from, oh, feeding its people, fending off U.S. border incursions, and improving its standing in the world.
In short: the state of Texas would rapidly become direly impoverished, would need to be heavily armed, and would be wracked with existential domestic and foreign policy threats. It would probably make our failed states list in short order. Probably better to pay the damn taxes.
And of course -- Texas isn't seceding. Only regions in civil war or self-governing areas in very weak states manage independence. Perry was floating a piece of asinine political rhetoric, running a heated race against fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson and courting small-government conservatives of all stripes. Plus, more importantly, Texas can't secede, according to the 1869 Supreme Court Case, Texas v. White. Ah well.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Chuck Norris has offered to be President of Texas, greatly reducing the possible internal threat of unionists or external threat of U.S. military forces to the seceded country. (H/t Ezra Klein.)
Photo: Flickr user Susan E. Gray
In an ironic twist that was bound to happen sooner or later, the job of watching the U.S.-Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants from coming to take American jobs...has been outsourced. Thanks to live streaming videos, anyone with an Internet connection can now log on and keep an eye on the Texas border and report illegal immigrants or drug smugglers to the authorities. (I watched a section of the Rio Grande for about three minutes yesterday but then I got bored. Sorry America.)
Interestingly, foreigners seem particularly taken with the project:
Anyone with an internet connection can now help to patrol the 1,254-mile frontier through a network of webcams set up to allow the public to monitor suspicious activity. Once logged in, the volunteers spend hours studying the landscape and are encouraged to email authorities when they see anyone on foot, in vehicles or aboard boats heading towards US territory from Mexico.
So far, more than 100,000 web users have signed up online to become virtual border patrol deputies, according to Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition, which represents 20 counties where illegal crossings and drugs and weapons smuggling are rife.
"We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, 'Hey mate, we've been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia'," he said.
Since the first 15 of a planned network of 200 cameras went live in November, officials claim that emailed tips have led to the seizure of more than 2,000lb (907kg) of marijuana and 30 incidents in which "significant numbers" of would-be illegal immigrants were spotted and turned back. Some tips came from Europe, Asia and beyond, but most online watchers are based in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, three of the four US states that share a border with Mexico.
Just a few week's after the close encounter between Chinese naval vessels and the USN Impeccable, China has announced that it is converting old ships in order to boos the number of naval patrols in the South China sea:
Wu Zhuang, director of the Administration of Fishery and Fishing Harbour Supervision of the South China Sea, said: “China will make the best use of its naval ships and may also build more fishery patrol ships, depending on the need.”
He did not specify if the boats would be armed when they are sent out into a region of atolls, islands and reefs that are some or all disputed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The boats will be sailing in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe’s oil tanker traffic passes through the South China Sea since it offers the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian oceans for ships bringing energy from the Middle East to China and Japan.
Mr Wu said that the situation in the region was becoming increasingly complicated. "Faced with a growing amount of illegal fishing and other countries' unfounded territorial claims of islands in China’s exclusive economic zone, it has become necessary to step up the fishery administration's patrols to protect China’s rights and interests.”
As James Kraska and Brian Wilson wrote on FP's The Argument last week, China is currently engaged in a campaign to redefine international law to give it exclusive navigational rights in its "exclusive economic zone". So far, the battles have mostly been fought at international law conferences and symposia, but China seems to be increasingly taking its fight to the high seas.
Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviewed the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. Her first question: Should her job even exist, or should the 22 federal agencies and 200,000 employees under the D.H.S. banner disaggregate?
Napolitano, the former governor of border-state Arizona, didn't get defensive at Maddow's question, she just calmly explained her plans for the agency. Surprisingly her top priority seems to be Mexico.
Sounding sensibly hawkish, Napolitano stressed the importance of federal agencies working together to systematically to stop the flow of guns and money south and give Mexican authorities the shot in the arm they desperately need.
What's so weird about this? Two things.
First, Janet Napolitano is the secretary of homeland security, not defense or state. But rather than ineptly responding to natural disasters and taking a lot of flak for airport lines, Napolitano has taken leadership over the U.S. response to the burgenoning crisis, which may include sending troops across the border. She's acted as point-person for local politicians and leadership from the White House, State, Defense, and the Attorney General's office. Texas Governor Rick Perry turned to her to ask for a thousand more troops.
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
Unfortunately, Saletan's piece should have been called "How not to close the Gaza tunnels." It's really terrible advice -- almost a parody of the worst sort of technocentric thinking that military reformers like H.R. McMaster have been fighting against for decades.
Saletan examines the following nine options:
Seriously, I was waiting for the twist at the end where Saletan says, "See, none of this BS will work, which is why..." But instead, he concludes:
If Israel can't get a deal to block the tunnels with sensors or a barrier, it might have to resort to "statistical" bombing again. That could mean a bombing campaign along the border every three to six months—the length of time it takes diggers to complete new tunnels. An ugly prospect, to be sure. But not as ugly as what's going on right now in Gaza.
What ever happened to basic economics? If people want stuff, and people are willing to supply it at the demanded price -- whether it's illegal drugs, weapons, or televisions -- they will find a way to supply it, and they will take extreme risks if the expected payoff exceeds their expected costs. Full stop. (There's even a book about this phenomenon.)
The super-smart Michael Slackman looked into the smuggling issue in 2007, and he concluded (after actual reporting!) that "to stanch the flow of weapons, Egypt will ultimately have to address the economic and social concerns of the region, and not rely solely on its security forces":
In more than a dozen interviews shortly after Hamas solidified its grip on Gaza, locals said the Palestinian territory was a primary market for goods in a region short of jobs and other economic opportunities. They said, almost without exception, that the business of ferrying weapons was more about profit than ideology. [...]
In the last two years, since Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza, Egyptian officials said they had increased their policing of the border area, blowing up tunnels and arresting people connected with smuggling.
Israeli officials say that when they still had a presence in Gaza, they tried to foil the tunneling by installing a concrete or iron wall along the border that extended 3 meters, or 10 feet, underground. But the tunnels are typically 6 to 20 meters below ground.
Israel also used sonar and other sensors to hunt for the tunnels, occasionally setting off charges to cause undiscovered tunnels to collapse. They also urged the Egyptians to do more - which they did.
But no matter how much the authorities here tried to crack down on smuggling, people here said, the outlaw culture could never be overcome without economic development. Unemployment in the region is among the highest in Egypt.
While a percentage of the weapons smuggling is a function of solidarity with the Palestinians, people here said, weapons were also just one product that brought income. Many of the Bedouins said they also worked to smuggle people into Israel, often women from Eastern Europe looking to work in the sex industry. They talked of smuggling marijuana and cigarettes, too.
There's a sad history of people who don't understand -- or, for political reasons, pretend not to understand -- why technology won't solve their political, economic, and social problems. Take Robert McNamara, who in 1967 announced plans for a massive, ill-conceived "electronic anti-infiltration barrier" to stop inflitration of men and materiel from North Vietnam. Or take the moronic "virtual fence" that some in the U.S. government concoted to address illegal immigration because they didn't grasp what BusinessWeek's Keith Epstein, with more patience than I can muster, explains here:
The allure of a technology fix is understandable, given what federal agents are up against. Along nearly 2,000 miles of scorching desert, steep canyons, winding rivers, and urban mazes, they routinely strive for the unattainable—to stop the flow of people so desperate for better lives that they will climb, run, swim, tunnel, bribe, and even hide in car undercarriages to get into the U.S. The number of Border Patrol agents has almost doubled since 2000, to 14,900, supplemented now by up to 3,000 National Guard troops. Still, migrants continue to cross. And they'll continue to come, as long as Mexico's per capita income remains one-fifth that of the U.S. and employers in El Norte continue to welcome them.
So, wise guy, you ask, how do you shut down the Gaza tunnels?
My answer: You don't. Or, at least, not until you permit free trade in and out of Gaza, end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raise income levels in northern Sinai, and pay Egyptian officials high enough wages such that they don't feel the need to take bribes.
There is no technological solution, so best of luck with the rest of it.
Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images
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