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Mali: Progress on transition, peace process, amid ongoing insecurity

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UN peacekeepers patrol the Menaka region in northeast Mali. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

The situation in Mali continues to justify sustained international attention and engagement, the top UN official in the West African country told the Security Council on Tuesday. El-Ghassim Wane, head of the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, presented the latest UN Secretary-General’s report on the peacekeeping operation.

He briefed ambassadors on progress in the transition and peace process, while also addressing ongoing insecurity and rising humanitarian needs. 

Mr. Wane was speaking a day after a MINUSMA vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in the Kidal region, located in the north. Four peacekeepers from Chad were killed, and two others injured. 

‘A stark reminder’ 

He said they join the many Malian, UN and international service members, as well as countless civilians, who have paid the ultimate price in the collective effort towards peace. 

“This is a stark reminder of the fact that the international community and the Malians are all in this together,” Mr. Wane told ambassadors. 

We can only win this battle together and the United Nations, in spite of the inherent limitations of peacekeeping, offers the best framework for achieving lasting peace in Mali and the broader Sahel.” 

Draft constitution presented 

Mali is on track to restore civilian rule following the military coup in August 2020. A constitutional referendum is set to be held in March 2023, with elections scheduled for the following year. 

Last week, the transitional president received a draft constitution which stresses good governance and countering corruption. It also calls for establishing a two-tier legislative body, among other provisions. 

An electoral law was adopted in June and the 15 members of the Independent Election Management Authority were appointed last week. 

A follow-up mechanism for the timeline for political and electoral reforms is also operational, said Mr. Wane, adding that the body will engage Malian stakeholders and ministers, as well as the African Union, regional bloc ECOWAS, and MINUSMA. 

“However, it is also evident that success of the electoral process will also hinge on a number of factors, specifically availability of the necessary financial and logistical resources, as well as security developments, which have an impact on all stages of the electoral cycle,” he said. 

‘Significant headway’ on peace

Mr. Wane also updated the Council on developments related to the 2015 peace agreement which ended unrest in the fractious north a decade ago. Extremists mounted a failed coup, but still control large swathes of the region.  

He said “significant headway” has been made since August, following a high-level meeting that saw approval for the government’s proposal to incorporate up to 26,000 former fighters in the security and defense forces. 

Action was also taken on the necessary institutional reforms for the implementation of the agreement.  

“Measures are currently being adopted to follow up on decisions taken at the decision-making meeting, and with a specific focus on creation of the ad hoc commission tasked with formulating recommendations on case-by-case management of high-level signatory movements, including issues related to the chain of command,” he said.  

The success of this commission will pave the way to the launch of the comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, known as DDR.  

Insecurity and civilian protection  

Furthermore, the transitional authorities have adopted a strategy for the fragile central region of Mali, focused on areas that include peace and social cohesion, which MINUSMA has supported. 

Mr. Wane also highlighted the challenging security situation in Mali, particularly in the centre and in the tri-border region with Burkina Faso and Niger. 

Elements affiliated with the extremist groups Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Jamāʿat Nuṣrat al-Islām wal-Muslimīn (JNIM) are taking advantage of security voids, he said, with a sharp increase in activities since March. 

“In this context, MINUSMA strives to better protect civilians, keeping in mind the State’s primary responsibility in this regard,” said Mr. Wane, citing examples such as troop redeployments, to increase ground patrols in the northern city of Ménaka. 

“The prevailing security situation in Ménaka and the Gao regions underscores the need for greater coordination between MINUSMA and Malian forces,” he said.  

“Moreover, it also points to the urgency of completing the DDR process and deploying the reconstituted army, as this will significantly enhance the ability of the Malian State to address the current challenges.” 

Displacement and hunger rising 

On the humanitarian front, Mr. Wane reported that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the centre and north rose from 350,000 to more than 422,000. Neighbouring countries are also hosting more than 175,000 Malian refugees. 

Additionally, more than 1.8 million people face severe food insecurity, which could reach 2.3 million by November, while 1.2 million under fives are affected by acute malnutrition. 

Insecurity has forced 1,950 schools to close, affecting nearly 600,000 children, mainly in the central regions. 

Although humanitarians are working to meet these needs, Mr. Wane said they are hampered by the lack of adequate and sustainable funding, as a $686 million appeal for this year is only roughly 30 per cent funded.  

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Former CIA analyst: ‘A costly and prolonged cold war now seems a certainty’

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‘No one knows how the war in Ukraine will end, but there is one post-war certainty: there will be a prolonged and costly Cold War between the United States and Russia,’ – predicts Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.

He writes: In an interview with David Ignatius of the Washington Post, who has been doing the bidding of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency for several decades, Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the importance of a “long-term goal of deterrence.” Ignatius took this to mean that the Biden administration will make sure that Russia “should not be able to rest, regroup and reattack.”

In addition to this year’s record defense budget that found the Congress providing $45 billion more than the Pentagon requested, a so-called “emergency” provision will lay the foundation for adding scarce resources to defense spending in the coming year. This provision will allow multiyear, noncompetitive agreements to produce such ordinary weaponry as rockets and munitions.

According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon will now have a way to replenish its stockpiles that will provide a “new golden age” for military contractors.

The Biden administration’s gift to the military-industrial complex rivals what the Reagan administration provided in the 1980s and ensures the country’s rich market for weapons sales. Nearly half of the record defense spending of $858 billion goes to military contractors.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees made sure that these spending spigots remain open by naming individuals with ties to the weapons industry to a commission that will review the Biden National Defense Strategy. The chairwoman of the commission, former Representative Jane Harman, protected Lockheed-Martin when she served on the Hill and currently is on the board of a military contractor that recently received a seven-year $800 million contract from the Pentagon.

The increased defense spending and the new emergency provision coincide with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s creation of a new committee — the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. In view of the recent rise in anti-Asian violence in the United States, it can only be hoped that Democrats appoint members to the committee who understand the domestic consequences of hyping the threat from China at this particular time.

Our China policy is not working, and the exaggeration of the China threat comes just in time for the hawks in the political aviary who fear that the severe deficiencies of the Russian military in Ukraine is making it more difficult to exaggerate the Russia threat. I’ve been calling attention to the exaggeration of the Russian threat for the past 50 years.

But the policy community, the bipartisan congressional community, and the pundit community can’t let go of the idea that the Soviet Union and Russia present a ‘threat to the national security of the United States’.

The Biden policy ensures a robust military presence on the Russian border that will worsen Cold War 2.0. There will be prolonged and unnecessary increases in defense spending, and the absence of a diplomatic dialogue in those important areas where there is Russian-American agreement.

These areas include a variety of arms control and disarmament issues, such as stopping the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and limiting the use of space in the military competition as well as dealing with insurgencies and terrorism; environmental degradation; and future pandemics.

It is hard to imagine any Russian government willing to pursue diplomatic solutions with a United States that has sponsored a NATO with more than 30 members; a military base in Poland; a regional missile defense in Poland and Romania; and the use of Romanian military facilities close by Russian forces and the Black Sea.

This serious turning point is being ignored by the policy community as well as the pundit and academic communities.”

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NATO press South Korea to provide arms to Ukraine

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Image source: NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged South Korea to provide military support to Ukraine, saying the country is in urgent need of ammunition, stresses “The Wall Street Journal”. Mr. Stoltenberg met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. After the meeting, Mr. Yoon promised to provide continued support to Ukraine, without saying whether Seoul would consider sending arms.

NATO is calling on South Korea to supply Ukraine because it is a U.S. ally with substantial capability to provide weapons, said Cha Du-hyeogn, a research fellow at Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. It means that NATO efforts are no longer enough.

While not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, South Korea is a close U.S. ally, and Mr. Yoon attended the NATO summit last year in Madrid. South Korea has sent materials such as gas masks, bulletproof vests and medical supplies to Ukraine, but has declined to provide lethal weapons, citing a law that prevents it from arming countries engaged in conflicts.

South Korea has been supplying arms to countries that have been supporting Ukraine in the war, including NATO member Poland. Seoul has signed deals to provide Poland with tanks and aircraft since the start of the war.

But, Seoul has sought to tread carefully with Russia, which is a large energy supplier to South Korea and holds sway with North Korea.

Mr. Stoltenberg in Seoul called North Korea’s nuclear-weapons development and missile tests grave threats that violate United Nations Security Council sanctions.

Pyongyang called Mr. Stoltenberg’s visit to South Korea and Japan a “prelude to confrontation and war,” saying it could bring a new Cold War to the Asia-Pacific region, according to North Korean state media.

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Russia restored Syrian air base for joint use

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Jarrah Base, Syria (Photo Credit: TASS)

Russia and Syria have restored the ‘Al-Jarrah’ military air base in Syria’s north to be jointly used, Russia’s Defence Ministry said.

“Russian and Syrian military personnel restored the destroyed al-Jarrah airfield,” the ministry said on the Telegram messaging. “The joint basing of aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Force at the al-Jarrah airfield makes it possible to cover the state border.”

The small base east of Aleppo was recaptured from Islamic State fighters in 2017.

Russia has been a dominant military force in Syria since launching air strikes and ground operations there in 2015. It further asserted its presence after the United States pulled out its forces in 2019.

The conflict in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and drawn in regional and world powers, has entered into a second decade, although fighting is at a lower intensity than in earlier years, writes ‘The National’ from Abu Dhabi, UAE.

With backing from Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government has recovered most of its territory.

Turkish-backed opposition fighters still control a pocket in the north-west, and Kurdish fighters backed by the US also control territory near the Turkish border.

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