What lurks behind the incapacity to resolve the destabilizing crises of North Korea's latest nuclear test and Saudi Arabia's frontal clash with Iran are the realpolitik considerations of Russia, China and the United States.
Writing from Vladivostok, only 180 miles from North Korea's nuclear test site, Artyom Lukin points out that "just like Beijing, Moscow is exasperated about Pyongyang's nuclear tests, but at the same time it does not want to see the North being annexed by the pro-American South. Moreover, Russia and North Korea currently share intense anti-Americanism, which makes them allies of sorts. ... Russia's and China's stances on North Korea are not so much different from how the United States treats Saudi Arabia -- a brutal regime sponsoring the ideology of violent jihadism, but one with which Washington needs to maintain friendship for realpolitik reasons." As Brian Dooley notes, the U.S. response to the Saudi execution of a Shia cleric and others was predictably muted since it is loathe to further damage already strained relations with Saudi Arabia, the long-standing oil-rich pillar of its Mideast policy, even though the Sunni kingdom wants to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal and its Wahhabist ideology inspires jihadism.
One of Australia's top China experts, Euan Graham, is more optimistic than Lukin on China's role. "North Korea is the one regional security issue where Washington consistently courts greater Chinese assertiveness. If Beijing sees this as a timely source of leverage in Sino-U.S. relations, Pyongyang's latest nuclear escapade may not be entirely unwelcome," he writes. Harvard's Jieun Baek calls for a new strategy: information "fracking" to create fissures in North Korea's rock hard ideological substructure. Writing from Seoul, HuffPost Korea editor Dohoon Kim explains why South Koreans are so nonchalant over yet another North Korean nuclear test.
In an interview, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the revolution in 1979, writes that Saudi Arabia and Iran have been locked in mutual "closed circuits of violence" for decades in a conflict that is more about regional power than Shia or Sunni religious disputes. Craig Unger, author of "House of Bush, House of Saud," echoes Bani-Sadr's analysis. Writing for HuffPost Maghreb, Milad Jokar says the conflict signals a "geopolitical reversal" that is strengthening conservatives in both countries.
Trita Parsi proclaims that the privilege Saudi Arabia has long enjoyed in the American-led Middle East order is over. Ian Bremmer and Cliff Kupchan warn that the current fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia "will play out not in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen" with little chance of any diplomatic breakthrough. David Hearst declares the talks to negotiate peace in Syria are "dead" as a result of the new Saudi-Iran confrontation. Writing from Paris, philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy says though "Iran is no paragon of democracy," it is time to stand up to Saudi Arabia. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, once a member of Iran's National Security Council, argues that the Saudi kingdom has "overstretched itself in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, supporting terrorist groups and totally breaking down its ties with Iran" and is headed toward collapse if it doesn't reform. Al Arabiya English editor Faisal Abbas takes the opposite stance. "It was as if Saudi Arabia executed yet another terrorist when Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir announced the severing of ties with Iran. In fact, one could argue that the Iranian regime resembles the single biggest terrorist threat, not just to Saudi Arabia and the region, but to global security as well." Muhammad Sahimi lists the likely candidates to succeed Ayatollah Khamenei as the jockeying begins to select a replacement for Iran's supreme leader. Reacting to recent attacks in India and Afghanistan, Mohammad Taqi scores "Pakistan's consistent use of jihadism as a tool of statecraft and foreign policy over the past four decades." In this week's "Forgotten Fact," we turn our attention to Africa, where U.S. drone wars are not over.
While the new outbreak of tension further roils the Middle East, a major step toward reconciliation took place in Northeast Asia when Japan and South Korea reached an historic agreement on "comfort women" -- the women and girls enslaved by Japan's Imperial Army during the Second World War. "In doing so," former U.S. House Intelligence Committee chair Jane Harman writes, " the two countries made a strong statement that diplomacy can be a positive-sum game." Sejeoung Kim points out that it doesn't matter who the victims were but that Japan is responsible as an occupying power whose military organization allowed and ran the comfort facilities.
As China's stock market tanked yet again, economist Robert Hockett warns that China is headed toward a financial meltdown as a result of the vast increase in private borrowing to sustain growth after the 2008-2009 U.S. financial crisis that cannot now be paid back in a slowing economy. Brad DeLong maintains that the global economy is still suffering the "Longest Depression" that ensued after that financial crash. Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz argues for a global stimulus through infrastructure investment. "The only cure for the world's malaise is an increase in aggregate demand ... Infrastructure alone could absorb trillions of dollars in investment, not only true in the developing world, but also in the U.S. .... the entire world needs to retrofit itself to face the reality of global warming."
On the bright side in China, WorldPost China Correspondent Matt Sheehan reports from Beijing that, in 2015, China saw a 16 percent fall in the most deadly type of air pollutant. From New Delhi, Prem Shankar Jha inventories the obstacles to meeting the recently agreed upon Paris climate goals, but argues that concentrated solar thermal plants, especially in India where extending electricity to the poor relies on coal, can make a big difference.
Reporting from Rome in our regular "Following Francis" series, Sébastien Maillard lays out the pope's 2016 agenda, which will include the canonization of Mother Teresa, a visit to the U.S.-Mexican border and addressing the issue of divorcees and communion. In their continuing series, "Meet the Darbis," Willa Frej and Rowaida Abdelaziz chronicle how one family of Syrian refugees is making their way in America. Photographer Maro Kouri follows three wounded Syrian refugees on their daunting trek to Europe. From Athens, Ioana Moldovan recounts, with photos, what it was like to spend New Year's as a refugee in a Greek anarchist shelter. World Reporter Charlotte Alfred tells the unusual story of a blind Palestinian journalist and how she sees the world from the streets of Jerusalem.
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