This interesting piece from Foreign Policy examines "intifada," what it means literally, what it has meant in practice, and why making it a forbidden term is problematic.
"There has been too little clarity about the meaning and implications of the word intifada, though. It derives from the Arabic verb nafada, which means “to shake off,” in the sense of shaking dust off one’s clothes, say, or shaking off lethargy. The word intifada, then, literally translates as a “shudder” or “shiver,” or when used in a political context, a “popular uprising.” It does not mean genocide. The word intifada became familiar to newsreaders worldwide in 1987, when the term was used to describe a popular uprising mounted by Palestinians that year against Israel. That uprising, which lasted until the early 1990s and came to be known as the First Intifada, began as a largely peaceful protest movement involving acts of civil disobedience, such as strikes and boycotts, but it became more violent later on, partly in reaction to the harsh Israeli security response. According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, nearly 2,000 people were killed during the First Intifada, with the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths slightly more than 3-to-1. The Second Intifada, which took place roughly from 2000 to 2005, was far more violent—Palestinian militants carried out more than 130 suicide bombings in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza between October 2000 and July 2005—as was its suppression by Israel. More than 4,300 people were killed, again with a ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths slightly more than 3-to-1. (In the current conflict, the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths since Oct. 7 is a little less than 15-to-1, not including Palestinians killed in the West Bank.) Neither of these uprisings came anywhere close to being genocides. With the conflation of intifada with genocide seemingly now well underway, though, the world must ask itself: What does it mean to say that the act of rising up, or civil uprising, by Palestinians is impermissible? Do we really mean to say that they should not be able to resist against a miserable, constricting fate that has locked large numbers of their people into hopeless lives in Gaza, or that they should resolve themselves to seeing lands in the West Bank that they once controlled and lived on steadily annexed by Israel while they increasingly come under violent attack? ... Most importantly of all, does it mean that Palestinians must be silent, abandon demands for a state of their own, and merely accept whatever Israel deems is sufficient for them? Have people who hold this view paused to think what avenues are open to Palestinians to object to such things? Can they imagine themselves, for an instant, accepting this?"
As meteorology and scientists' understanding of how disparate global weather patterns are connected continue to improve, this piece argues that El Niños are now predictable events and that there is no reason why the problems they cause should continue to take policymakers by surprise. www.nytimes.com/2023/10/29/opinion/el-nino-climate-disaster.html
Last weekend, a referendum held in Venezuela authorized President Nicolas Maduro to annex roughly two-thirds of Venezuela's eastern neighbor, Guyana. Guyana vigorously disputes any Venezuelan claims to its territory and says it will defend itself "by any means whatsoever." Although the threatened annexation is interpreted as populist bravado by Maduro, who is supposed to be holding elections in 2024, Venezuela's claim goes back to colonial agreements in the early 19th century and comes as foreign investors are showing more interest in Guyana's offshore oil resources. (Map from www.wsj.com/world/americas/venezuela-ramps-up-threat-to-annex-part-of-guyana-7ad621e1.)
A frequent mistake people make in evaluating political leaders is failing to take them at their word: if they say something, especially more than once, assume they mean it. For years before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russia-focused historians like Yale's Timothy Snyder tried to get people pay attention to what Vladimir Putin and other Russian thought leaders were writing and saying vis-a-vis Ukraine. But the tendency was to pooh-pooh the warning signs. Donald Trump is the likely Republican nominee for President in 2024. What have Trump and his inner circle been saying about his plans if he returns to the Presidency? In the last few weeks, Trump has argued that the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff should be executed for treason, that the greatest threat to the United States is "from within," and that immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country"; he referred to leftists and other political opponents as "vermin," and his campaign spokesman said "their sad, miserable existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House." In a long piece in The Washington Post last weekend, U.S. historian Robert Kagan wrote, "There is a clear path to dictatorship in the United States, and it is getting shorter every day." Kagan lays out his argument here: www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/11/30/trump-dictator-2024-election-robert-kagan/ Last night on a Fox News "town hall," in response to Kagan's piece, Sean Hannity asked Trump directly if he would be a dictator; at first, Trump did not answer. When Hannity repeated the question, Trump said he would not be, "except on day one" while smiling and laughing. (Trump quotes, other than the Fox News quote, all appear in www.nytimes.com/2023/11/13/us/politics/trump-vermin-rhetoric-fascists.html.)
This topological map, based on data analyzed by the American Enterprise Institute, looks at the states producing weapon systems for Ukraine as a result of Congressional-approved aid for Ukraine. (Map from www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/11/29/ukraine-military-aid-american-economy-boost/.)
Israel depends on foreign labor in its agricultural sector, which accounts for the large number of Thai citizens kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7. Since the war began, an estimated 15,000 farmworkers have left Israel. This week the African country of Malawi announced that it is sending at least 5,000 replacement farmworkers to Israel. The deal was announced "two weeks after the Israeli government announced a $60 million aid package for Malawi," one of the world's poorest countries as measured by per capita GDP. www.nytimes.com/live/2023/11/28/world/israel-hamas-gaza-war-news#malawi-plans-to-send-thousands-of-farmworkers-to-israel
In light of last weekend's Dutch election that brought Geert Wilders's right-wing, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom to power, it seemed useful to share this piece from Foreign Affairs earlier this year by Georgetown international affairs professor Charles King. King walks readers through an ascendant new political conservatism that is no longer rooted in expanding individual liberty -- reflected in Barry Goldwater's argument in 1960, "The Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of the social order" -- but is instead a weaving together "of religion, personal morality, national culture, and public policy" that considers the Enlightenment a "wrong turn" in governing principles. www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/antiliberal-revolution
This map highlights deep-sea mining rights, which are emerging as a new frontier in geopolitical contestation over rare-earth metals. The Clarion-Clipperton Zone between Mexico and Hawaii, for example, is believed to contain up to 6x the cobalt and 3x the nickel of all land-based deposits. (Map from www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2023/china-deep-sea-mining-military-renewable-energy/.)
It is assumed the Russian government will try to use the fighting between Israel and Hamas as a wedge issue in European countries, like France, that have large Jewish and Muslim populations in order to promote domestic turmoil in those countries and erode their support for Ukraine. The recent appearance of hundreds of spray-painted Stars of David, along with pro-Palestine slogans, is one concrete example currently being investigated by French police: www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/11/france-investigates-suspected-russian-role-star-david-graffiti-paris
Content developers are figuring out how to “poison” generative AI models that scrape their content from the internet without permission. This article from MIT Technology Review, for example, discusses a software program artists can run their images through before uploading them to the web. The software embeds invisible pixels in the images that act as a poison pill, causing AI tools that “digest” them to malfunction. The developer “admits there is a risk that people might abuse the data poisoning technique for malicious uses. However, he says attackers would need thousands of poisoned samples to inflict real damage on larger, more powerful models, as they are trained on billions of data samples. ‘We don’t yet know of robust defenses against these attacks. We haven’t yet seen poisoning attacks on modern [machine learning] models in the wild, but it could be just a matter of time,’ says Vitaly Shmatikov, a professor at Cornell University who studies AI model security and was not involved in the research.”
Yesterday was the deadline Pakistan issued for all illegal immigrants within its borders to leave of their own accord or face detention and deportation. This order has been understood to be targeting the 1.7 million undocumented Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, of which about one-third fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in 2021. Tens of thousands, perhaps as many as 200,000, Afghans have crossed the border into Afghanistan since Pakistan issued the deportation order October 3: www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghans-return-taliban-rule-pakistan-moves-expel-17-million-2023-10-31/
Of the roughly 225 hostages Hamas captured in Israel and is holding in Gaza, 54 are Thai nationals. Thai nationals also make up the largest group of foreigners killed by Hamas on Oct. 7. This article from Quartz looks at issues surrounding the prevalence of Thai migrant workers in Israel's agricultural sector: qz.com/why-so-many-hamas-hostages-are-from-thailand-1850963541
For those looking to learn more about the context of the current fight between Israel and Hamas, Foreign Policy magazine has asked its experts and assembled a list of book recommendations: foreignpolicy.com/2023/10/22/israel-hamas-war-books-about-palestinians-gaza-history-conflict/
With so much going on in the world, it might be useful to know where to turn for more in-depth information. Now that "Intelligence Matters" has stopped creating new shows, podcasts I particularly like for world affairs: "The Foreign Affairs Interview" www.foreignaffairs.com/podcasts/foreign-affairs-interview (from Foreign Affairs magazine), "FP Live" foreignpolicy.com/podcasts/foreign-policy-live/ (from Foreign Policy magazine), "Pod Save the World" crooked.com/podcast-series/pod-save-the-world/ (from Tommy Vietor and Ben Rhodes, who worked on national security issues during the Obama administration), and, for an economic lens on world affairs, "Ones and Tooze" foreignpolicy.com/podcasts/ones-and-tooze/ (also from Foreign Policy magazine).
The U.S. government has become, rather accidentally, one of the world's largest holders of bitcoin. "Uncle Sam’s stash of some 200,000 bitcoin was seized from cybercriminals and darknet markets. It is primarily offline in encrypted, password-protected storage devices known as hardware wallets that are controlled by the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service or another agency. What the federal government does with its bitcoin has long been a topic of interest among crypto traders because any sale could potentially swing prices or cause other ripple effects in the $1 trillion digital-asset market. ... [T]hat big pile of bitcoin is more a byproduct of a lengthy legal process than strategic planning. ... Even after selling some 20,000 bitcoin, the U.S.’s holdings are still worth more than $5 billion, the analysis shows. The size of the government’s total stash is likely much larger. ... When a government agency takes control of a crypto asset, Uncle Sam doesn’t immediately own that asset. Only after a court issues a final forfeiture order does the government take ownership and transfer the tokens to the U.S. Marshals Service, the primary agency tasked with liquidating seized assets. ...“Our goal is to dispose of assets in a timely manner at fair-market value,” a representative for the agency said. In many cases, the proceeds from the government’s sales go toward reimbursing victims." www.wsj.com/finance/currencies/federal-government-bitcoin-5-billion-78ce0938
In the simulation for my "Statecraft 2030" class yesterday, one of the student teams had to deal with an insurgency fueled by conflict over extractive resources. According to the United Nations, 40% of civil wars fought over the last 60 years have been associated with natural resources. Because the question often comes up about the difference between an insurgency and terrorism, I thought this short analysis worth sharing: www.terrorism-research.com/insurgency/
The rapid depletion of key American aquifers, highlighted in this article, reflects an intersection of physical and human geography that is arguably every bit as important as climate change but gets a fraction of the attention. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/08/28/climate/groundwater-drying-climate-change.html
Russia has long resisted Chinese involvement in Arctic issues, considering the Arctic to be Russia's special domain. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, though, Russia has started to allow China access to Arctic sea routes to transport Russian oil to Chinese markets. This map, from the Wall Street Journal, shows Russian oil shipments to China via the Arctic since July 15. (Map from www.wsj.com/world/china-is-gaining-long-coveted-role-in-arctic-as-russia-yields-f5397315.)
The Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea was in the news again last week: members of the Philippines coast guard took a fishing boat to the area near the shoal, where China had installed a "floating barrier" patrolled by Chinese vessels, impeding Filipino fishing boats from accessing the waters near the shoal, and cut the line. Chinese officials later denied the line had been cut, saying they had chosen to remove it. But for the people of the Philippines, the incident has been cast as a David-and-Goliath story, with Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. making an explicit decision to use the coast guard to defy Chinese efforts to claim the Scarborough Shoal. www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-remove-barrier-placed-by-china-south-china-sea-national-security-2023-09-25/
Nickel is a key mineral in batteries, a pivotal component in green energy technologies, and Indonesia has the world's largest nickel reserves, centered on the monkey-shaped island of Sulawesi. But Chinese investment in smelting and refining Indonesia's nickel is putting it at the center of a geopolitical tug of war.
"Mr. Luhut [an Indonesian cabinet minister] aspires to transform Indonesia into a hub for the production of electric vehicles. But as he pursues that paramount goal, he and his country are increasingly vulnerable to geopolitical forces beyond their control. Though this archipelago nation has long sidestepped entanglements in ideological rivalries, it is increasingly caught in the conflict between the United States and China. At stake is control over nickel, a mineral used to make batteries for electric cars and motorcycles — a central component of the mission to limit the ravages of climate change. Indonesia boasts the earth’s largest reserves, making it something like the Saudi Arabia of nickel. But harvesting and refining those stocks is largely dependent on investment and technology from Chinese companies. And that has limited Indonesia’s access to the United States. ... In recent months, Mr. Luhut — formally Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment — has implored the Biden administration for a trade deal covering minerals in an effort to secure his country status as a friendly country. That would generate greater demand for its nickel by making it eligible for the American tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act. Companies around the globe would presumably gain incentive to erect smelters and electric vehicle factories in Indonesia, enhancing the nation’s technological prowess, and creating jobs. But Mr. Luhut, the government’s de facto lead official on trade matters, has been repeatedly rebuffed because of American concerns about Chinese investment in Indonesia’s nickel industry, as well as unease over working conditions and environmental standards. ... “We are aiming basically to the United States,” he said. “But if the Americans finally say, ‘We don’t want to take it,’ fine, we’ll look for some other places to go.”"www.nytimes.com/2023/08/18/business/indonesia-nickel-china-us.html
This recent piece from MIT Technology Review considers AI weapons in light of evolving technology:
"[I]ntelligent autonomous weapons that fully displace human decision-making have (likely) yet to see real-world use. ... Meanwhile, intelligent systems that merely guide the hand that pulls the trigger have been gaining purchase in the warmaker’s tool kit. And they’ve quietly become sophisticated enough to raise novel questions—ones that are trickier to answer than the well-covered wrangles over killer robots and, with each passing day, more urgent: What does it mean when a decision is only part human and part machine? ... For a long time, the idea of supporting a human decision by computerized means wasn’t such a controversial prospect. Retired Air Force lieutenant general Jack Shanahan says the radar on the F4 Phantom fighter jet he flew in the 1980s was a decision aid of sorts. It alerted him to the presence of other aircraft, he told me, so that he could figure out what to do about them. But to say that the crew and the radar were coequal accomplices would be a stretch. ...
"The Ukrainian army uses a program, GIS Arta, that pairs each known Russian target on the battlefield with the artillery unit that is, according to the algorithm, best placed to shoot at it. A report by The Times, a British newspaper, likened it to Uber’s algorithm for pairing drivers and riders, noting that it significantly reduces the time between the detection of a target and the moment that target finds itself under a barrage of firepower. Before the Ukrainians had GIS Arta, that process took 20 minutes. Now it reportedly takes one. Russia claims to have its own command-and-control system with what it calls artificial intelligence, but it has shared few technical details. ... Like any complex computer, an AI-based tool might glitch in unusual and unpredictable ways; it’s not clear that the human involved will always be able to know when the answers on the screen are right or wrong. In their relentless efficiency, these tools may also not leave enough time and space for humans to determine if what they’re doing is legal. ...
"The scholar M.C. Elish has suggested that a human who is placed in this kind of impossible loop could end up serving as what she calls a “moral crumple zone.” In the event of an accident—regardless of whether the human was wrong, the computer was wrong, or they were wrong together—the person who made the “decision” will absorb the blame and protect everyone else along the chain of command from the full impact of accountability. ... The gunsight never pulls the trigger. The chatbot never pushes the button. But each time a machine takes on a new role that reduces the irreducible, we may be stepping a little closer to the moment when the act of killing is altogether more machine than human, when ethics becomes a formula and responsibility becomes little more than an abstraction. If we agree that we don’t want to let the machines take us all the way there, sooner or later we will have to ask ourselves: Where is the line? "
The Darién Gap is a roadless region of tropical rainforest connecting North and South America; the "gap" refers to the gap in the Pan-American Highway in this section of southern Panama and northern Colombia. Since the economic disintegration of Venezuela in 2018, the Darién Gap has also emerged as a primary, if arduous, transit corridor for migrants trying to get from South America to Mexico and the U.S. This article from the New York Times looks at the how the Darién Gap has become a major cash cow, not just for smugglers but also for entrepreneurs and local officials in what is effectively a space outside central government control. Trafficking migrants across the Darién Gap is described as "the only profitable industry in a place that didn’t have a defined economy before.” www.nytimes.com/2023/09/14/world/americas/migrant-business-darien-gap.html
Cantonese is the primary language of southern China, including Hong Kong, and Cantonese has been a tool for anti-regime satire and solidarity since the 2019 protests in Hong Kong. This article from Quartz looks at Beijing's attempts to crackdown on Cantonese publishing outlets and promote the teaching of Mandarin in Hong Kong's schools: qz.com/hong-kong-s-new-public-enemy-the-cantonese-language-1850780591
Geoengineering is the nascent science and movement to engineer the earth's climate by any number of means, including fertilizing the ocean to increase CO2 uptake and scattering particles in the upper atmosphere to deflect solar radiation. This piece from Foreign Policy argues that one of the lessons from Oppenheimer is that geoengineering, like nuclear weapons, needs international "guardrails and guidelines" because of its planetary impact. foreignpolicy.com/2023/08/21/oppenheimer-movie-atom-bomb-climate-change-geoengineering-solar-radiation-modification-srm-regulation/
China recently indicated President Xi Jinping will skip the G-20 economic summit in India later this month. That decision comes on the heels of a new standard map released by China's ministry of natural resources last week that shows India's state of Arunachal Pradesh, in the far northeastern part of the country, and all of the Aksai Chin plateau, part of which is in Kashmir, as Chinese territory. Although the Himalayan border between India and China has been poorly defined, disputed, and the source of military conflict for decades, the new map is viewed with concern as part of a tendency for China to claim territory in print before trying to assert its claims in other ways. qz.com/india-china-border-dispute-map-arunachal-pradesh-1850786461
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