News

Upon Reflection (11 September-15 September)

Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world

Selected News Headlines

for the
Working Week
11 September-15 September 2017

Hurricane Irma: Two-thirds of Florida without power

12 September 2017, Tallahassee, Florida, United States – BBC News – In what may be a sign of things to come, Hurricane Irma, which swept a path of destruction throughout the Caribbean before slamming into the US ‘panhandle’ state of Florida, has caused unprecedented destruction.

Once again it shows the power of Mother Nature and our inability, as the current custodians of Planet Earth, to do anything other than get out of harm’s way. Nonetheless, the state of our technology, being able to map the path of hurricanes, as well as having in place evacuation procedures, that, while not perfect, has kept casualty rates down, is testament to human ingenuity in the face of natural destruction.

With most hurricane devastated areas now in the recovery phase, what remains to be seen is whether insurance companies will pay out victims in a timely and appropriate manner and whether state and federal agencies will be able to fully sustain the recovery process in a tighter budgetary environment.

Irma is the second of two hurricanes (during this hurricane season) that swept across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and onto the North American shore. The other, Hurricane Harvey, was of an intensity and size that forebodes an era of ‘super-storms’, caused by a warming global environment.

The onset of larger and more ferocious hurricanes may have significant national security implications as the levels of destruction may well regularly ground aircraft, hamper shipping and cut through vital road, rail and communications networks throughout the Caribbean and southern United States.


North Korea sanctions: UN security council unanimously agrees new measures

12 September 2017, Washington DC & Tokyo – The Guardian – In what appears to be a toughening of international resolve to apply pressure on the North Korean leadership, the UN Security Council has unanimously agreed to increase sanctions on the rogue state’s textile industry and impose a ceiling on its oil imports as punishment for its continued ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests.

This sanctions package does not include what the Trump administration called for, namely a partial naval blockade of North Korea as well as the full banning of oil imports in order to prevent a Russian and Chinese veto.

How these new sanctions will affect the decision making in Pyongyang is not clear –  threatening language from ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-un notwithstanding.

Through the country’s extensive black-market networks, the Kim dynasty has managed to get enough of what it needs to survive. Furthermore, in spite of Chinese protestations, China’s overriding desire to see American power diminish in Northeast Asia, requires the current regime to stay in place.

There are no viable ‘plan-Bs’ for China to retain a ‘friendly’ North Korea on its borders. China pushing Pyongyang too hard may well see the country dramatically flip away from Chinese influence which would be considered a major national security problem for Beijing.


Qatari emir travels to Turkey as economic pressure grows

13 September 2017, Abu Dhabi UAE – The National – In a sign of hardening positions in the current Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) crisis, the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim is to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The ‘squeeze’ has been put on Doha by fellow GCC members as well as other Saudi orientated countries in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region for the Qatari’s support and funding of ‘terrorism’, more particularly from one organisation – the Muslim Brotherhood.

Serious accusations have been levelled at the Qatari government by Riyadh, largely echoed by other GCC states. An economic embargo has been enforced on Qatar, forcing Doha to reach out to Turkey and Iran in order to circumvent the pressure being applied.

All the while the US is continuing to find ways to deescalate this crisis which complicates its strategic position in the Gulf since the Qatari government hosts a major US airbase and intelligence collection facility. In spite of Kuwaiti efforts at mediation, it does not look as though a diplomatic breakthrough is likely before the year is out.

The longer this crisis continues, the harder the respective positions will become. Seen through the broader strategic lens of strategic competition, the only potential short-term winners are Turkey and Iran, both of whom are likely to get access to cheap gas from Qatar in return for their ‘protection’. In the medium-term, there is the greater threat of this crisis permanently splitting the GCC if not brought under control.


North Korea Launches Another Missile, Escalating Crisis

14 September 2017, Seoul, South Korea – The New York Times – In another demonstration of North Korean military prowess, a second ICBM was launched over Japan, days after the UN Security Council passed more sanctions on the isolated state.

Pyongyang is determined not to be pushed into a corner in what it perceives as its right to self-defence. The isolated country is playing to its strengths, knowing full well that only an American led or sanctioned attack will stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. And such an attack can only take place with the OK from China and direct Chinese military involvement. Neither the US nor China want war or to clean up the potential mess of a war against North Korea.

South Korea is changing its otherwise more moderate inclinations towards its northern neighbour by entering into new arms agreements with the US, adding to the country’s significant high-tech firepower, as is Japan.

The screws are tightening on North Korea.

It is unlikely that Pyongyang will give up its irascible independence from the international community, leaving the international community little room to find an elegant, non-military ‘out’ from this crisis. All signs are currently point to war, whether by design or mistake. The only question remains, who will fire the first shot?

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