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The World This Week: February 4, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

Australia is set to transport all refugee children currently held at their offshore detention center in Nauru to the United States in the following days. Australia has come under international scrutiny for its mandatory detention practices for unauthorized immigrants and asylum seekers, who are turned away from the border or deported and held in an Australian-operated facility on the island nation of Nauru. Thousands of people have been held at these facilities in conditions likened to a concentration camp, and residents have been subjected to inadequate hygiene and sanitation services, and faced reported sexual assaults, hunger strikes, self-immolations, and suicides. The agreement to resettle the children held in these facilities was made between the United States and Australia under the Obama administration, and the current Trump administration has, after a period of negotiation, decided to honor the agreement. Over one thousand adult refugees are still held offshore.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a statement publicly opposing the United States’ decision to withdraw from the US-Russia Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over concerns that the dissolution of the treaty will open a new nuclear arms race and destabilize the power politics of much of the world. The statement warned of the potential for “negative consequences” if the dialogue and cooperation the treaty has fostered over the past decades were to cease. While the Chinese government did encourage the two states to continue to honor the existing agreement, it also made clear its lack of interest in developing a similar framework for its own nuclear arsenal.

Europe and Central Asia

The United States confirmed their intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty Friday, offering Russia a 180 day period to destroy all of its prohibited missiles or face the scrapping of the agreement. The landmark 1987 agreement between the two countries prohibited the processing, production, testing, and use of ground launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 km. It was the first nuclear agreement that sought a reduction, rather than cap, on nuclear arsenals and has been a key instrument of disarmament since its signing. The two countries have accused each other of violating the treaty, notably with the Russian 9M729 missiles (a modified short range Islander K) and the American Mark 41 VLS. Both nations deny the violations. Observers fear the elimination of the INF treaty may spark a new nuclear arms race.

In the United Kingdom, Brexit negotiations have hit yet another road bump with the European Union refusing to reopen negotiations on the Brexit backstop, the backup agreement intending to preserve the open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The backstop has been a sticking point for Parliament, with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs concerned about the possibility of the UK remaining tied to EU rules even after the Brexit deadline has passed, MPs from Northern Ireland insisting on preventing a hard border, and Remainers hoping for a backstop extending past the Irish Sea and covering the entirety of the UK. British Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU are faced with the prospect of a no deal Brexit and reliance on the backstop should MPs be unable to come to any agreement. The Irish border issue has been one of the major critical areas during the Brexit negotiations and contributed to the heaviest Parliamentary defeat of Prime Minister in British history, EU concerns the UK is headed for a disastrous no-deal crashing out, and domestic calls for a second referendum.

Latin America and The Caribbean

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is in the hospital recovering from a planned surgery for a stab wound he sustained during the campaign season. Vice President Mourao has temporarily taken over the presidency until Bolsonaro is released later this week. Before his surgery, Bolsonaro visited the site of the Brumadinho Dam collapse which killed at least 115 were killed and left 248 still missing. Authorities arrested five individuals in connection with their investigation.

Venezuelan Air Force General Francisco Yanez defected last week and called for fellow officers to support interim president Juan Guaido. Other defectors that fled Venezuela made requests for the U.S. to arm the opposition forces. Maduro has taken symbolic efforts to retain servicemembers by participating in various exercises and giving public speeches. Maduro’s government has taken several step to put pressure on Guaido including asset freezes by the Supreme Court and sending police forces to harass Guaido and his family at his home.

Middle East and North Africa

Iran’s top judge on Monday called Europe’s mechanism for avoiding U.S. sanctions unacceptable. France, Britain, and Germany created a channel for non-dollar trade with Iran, known as the SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle), but Judge Sadeq Amoli-Larijani said that the mechanism presents “humiliating conditions” and only has the capacity for food and medicine.

Iraqi President Barham Salih responded on Monday to President Donald Trump’s statement to about asking U.S. troops stationed in Iraq to “watch Iran”.  Present Salih stated that Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission for U.S. troops to “watch Iran”, and that “it is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran.” According to Salih, U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq are there on a specific mission to combat terrorism.      

North America


Canada and its Lima Group allies are meeting in Ottawa to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. There have been many protests pushing the current socialist leader, Nicolas Maduro, to leave the presidency. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will host the meeting of representatives from the 12 nations of the Lima Group, which was established in August 2017 to respond to the crisis in Venezuela. Canada has already contributed $2.2 million to the humanitarian crisis caused by Maduro’s presidency, but will not be able to contribute more due to Maduro’s blocking of humanitarian access. The Lima group hopes to achieve a solution for the economic and refugee crisis growing out of Venezuela.


The El Chapo trial went to the jury today, and there will soon be a verdict on whether Joaquin Guzmán is guilty of narcotrafficking, murder, torture, and a variety of other heinous crimes. Guzmán did not testify during his trial, but his wife stood by him. She even showed up one day with her husband in matching blazers in a demonstration of solidarity. Despite the likelihood that El Chapo will spend the rest of his days behind bars, Coronel maintains that he was a good husband and good father to their daughters. The testimonies of the witnesses paint a very different picture of his character, however, and the jury will have to decide which version they believe: family man or ruthless murderer.

Sub-Saharan Africa

An explosion occurred this morning in the center of the Somali capital Mogadishu. Islamist militant group al Shabaab frequently carries out bombings in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia against government military and other targets, and has claimed responsibility for this attack. The group is trying to remove the Western-backed central government and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Sharia law. Al Shabaab’s militants also carry out attacks outside Somalia especially in Kenya to pressure the country to return its troops who form part of the peace keeping force AMISOM that helps defend the central government.

France says its air force – working with the army in Chad – has carried out airstrikes against an armed group which had crossed the border from Libya. A statement by the French military said a fighter jet took off from the capital, N’Djamena, and targeted a column of 40 vehicles with two airstrikes. Last year, a new rebel movement seeking to topple the Chadian president, Idriss Deby, carried out attacks in the north of the country. The Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic first attacked last August. Chad has also been under threat from Islamist militant factions. France is supporting a regional force, known as G5, fighting the jihadists across the Sahel region.

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