The closing of the Beijing Olympics and Barack Obama’s announcement of his Vice-Presidential candidate have been the two most widely covered stories over the past few days. Here are a few other important stories from the past week:
1. Growing instability in Afghanistan: A Taliban attack outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, resulted in the deaths of ten French soldiers. The attack appeared to be part of a coordinated effort by the Taliban against Nato forces in the country, coinciding with another attack against US forces in the southwestern part of the country. The attacks highlight the shortage of material and soldiers in the country. Attending a memorial service for the soldiers, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted that he would continue French involvement in Afghanistan, asserting that it was “essential to the freedom of the world.” Reflecting growing tensions in the country, the government of Afghanistan on Friday accused Nato of killing 76 civilians, mostly children, during operations against Taliban insurgents.
2. The Crisis in South Ossetia: After negotiating a ceasefire, Russia and the west once again appear unable to resolve their differences over Russian withdrawal. Russia has rejected Nato’s call for a total withdrawal to pre-crisis positions. Nato has moved to isolate Russia, and in return Russia has cancelled joint military operations with Nato countries. The crisis gave new impetus to the United States and Poland to sign a missile defense shield. Demonstrating the link between international security and global political economy, the crisis also helped to push oil prices higher and marked the beginning of a trend of western investors pulling their money from Russia at a rate not seen since the Russian Ruble crisis of 1998.
3. The Rise of Food Neo-Colonialism: In a report issued on Tuesday, Jacques Dious, director general of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, warned that the drive for farmland could result in the development of a neo-colonial system for agriculture. Driven by record high commodity prices, foreign direct investment in farms and agricultural production has grown dramatically over the last couple of years.
4. The Pakistani Presidential Race: After the departure of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last week, the struggle to find a new president has begun. Mohammad Mian Soomro, chair of Pakistan’s Senate, has been named acting President and is heading the search for a new leader. Asif Ali Zardari, widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has emerged as the leading candidate from the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest party in the parliament.
5. Unified European Parliament: After part of the ceiling of the European Parliament in Strasbourg collapsed last week, the Parliament was forced to cancel its monthly trek from Brussels to Strasbourg. The Parliament traditionally moved to the French city of Strasbourg from Brussels for its monthly meetings, despite the fact that the majority of the Union’s administrative and bureaucratic support—not to mention its most important institutions—are based in Brussels, Belgium. The move, widely denounced by both the EU’s proponents and opponents—costs an estimated €200 million (($350 million) per year. It is hoped that the forced relocation of the Parliament may encourage a reconsideration of the monthly move, although French opposition may be hard to overcome.