Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The headlines this week were dominated by the G20 summit in London. The final communiqué produced by the summit committed $1.1 trillion to the International Monetary Fund (little of which was actually new money) and pledged some reforms for the structure of the institution. But the G20 was unable to agree on a new global stimulus package and failed to create an effective system of regulating global finance.

In other news from the last week:

1. Nuclear politics moved in two opposite directions over the weekend.  North Korea on Sunday launched a rocket over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The launch, widely viewed as a precursor to the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile system capable of striking the western United States, produced a sharp rebuke from other states, including Japan, South Korea, and the United States. According to a statement issued by the government of North Korea, the rocket successfully delivered into orbit a satellite transmitting revolutionary songs back to the earth.  But according to reports from the Pentagon, the rocket and its payload fell into the Pacific Ocean after the second stage of the rocket failed to properly ignite.  The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to take up the topic on Sunday afternoon.

2. As part of a policy review commissioned by the Obama administration, the United States government is considering a dramatic change in policy vis-à-vis Iran. While the U.S. has maintained its steadfast opposition to Iranian enrichment efforts, Iran has maintained its sovereign right to enrichment of nuclear fuel. The irreconcilability of the two positions has led the administration to consider dropping its opposition to Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for increased access by international monitors to Iranian nuclear facilities. It is generally believed that Iran currently maintains approximately 5,500 centrifuges and has amassed a stockpile of 1,000 kg of low-grade uranium, enough to produce one nuclear bomb if the uranium were sufficiently enriched.

3. A meeting of the NATO heads of government produced an agreement to deploy 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to monitor upcoming elections and train Afghan soldiers and police. Importantly, the alliance also agreed to appoint Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, as its new secretary-general. Rasmussen’s appointment was initially opposed by the Turkish government, whose opposition was driven by the controversy over anti-Muslim cartoons in Danish newspapers last year. Rasmussen was nevertheless appointed to direct the organization, but his position as secretary-general raises concerns about the wisdom of appointing a director whose appointment is regarded by the Muslim world as an affront.

4. A lawsuit filed in U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act against Royal Dutch Shell is moving forward. Shell is being sued for their involvement in the execution of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the government of Nigeria in 1995. In bringing the suit, lawyers are hoping to force Shell to disclose their role in human rights violations in the Ogoni district of Nigeria. The case, which is scheduled to commence in New York on May 26, is also widely viewed as a test case to determine if multinational corporations can be sued for damages for their operations abroad.

5. U.S. officials announced on Thursday that it will expand the scope of funding extended to help Mexico’s anti-drug initiatives. Under the Merida Initiative, the U.S. originally committed to providing the Mexican government with $300 million to help in anti-drug efforts. In response to calls by the Calderón government, some now believe that the U.S. may expand the initiative to as much as $1.4 billion.

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