Kai M. Thaler is Assistant Professor of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and in 2018-19 his is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He studies civil wars and violence, state building, regimes and regime change, and African and Latin American politics.
This week has seen a number of key events and crises in
global politics that have made crystal clear once again the careening mess that
is US foreign policy under the current administration. The Trump administration
has no real overarching strategy—the argument that allies in Europe and
elsewhere should bear more of the costs of their defense was not articulated as
part of any coherent broader vision—and gutting of the diplomatic corps has
left the US devoid of expertise and key actors to confront crises when they
First, there were two big stories around nuclear powers this
week. The biggest being India and Pakistan’s clashes, which came on the heels
of a suicide bombing attack on Indian troops in Kashmir by a local man that was
claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. In a scenario that Toby Dalton and George Perkovich worried
about and predicted, an air raid by India into Pakistan resulted in bombs
dropped on an open field, with two Indian planes apparently shot down, and one
airman captured. Pakistan responded with a raid of its own across the Line of
Control in Kashmir, sparking fears
of escalation between the two nuclear-armed states. The Indian raid marked
the first known aerial attack by one nuclear power on the territory of another.
On Sunday, the US Border Patrol fired tear gas into Mexico at migrants, including children, attempting to enter the US near the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The use of a chemical weapon banned in war against families rightly provoked widespread condemnation (Border Patrol agents also used pepper spray against migrants in 2013, fired tear gas and pepper spray into Mexico in 2007, and have killed rock throwers at the border in the past). Migrants attempting to enter the US are frustrated by the Trump administration’s restriction of the process of seeking asylum, a legal right under US and international law, a situation that won’t be solved by processing asylum seekers on Mexican soil.
Most of those who attempted to scale the border fence were reportedly from Honduras, the country with the world’s second-highest homicide rate. Young people there are caught between murderous gangs, violent and corrupt police, and paramilitary ‘social cleansing’ squads who target young men, while gender-based violence rates are also high. There are similar, if slightly less violent, dynamics in El Salvador and Guatemala, and increasing state repression in Nicaragua. Despite changes in US immigration policy and enforcement under the Trump administration, the US remains for many Central Americans a place of hope for a better, more secure life.
In this environment, deterrence efforts will have limited effectiveness. Continue reading
In under two weeks, Brazil will have the second round of its presidential election. Former military officer and fan of fascists Jair Bolsonaro looks set after a strong first-round showing to defeat Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad. If he wins, Bolsonaro will have strong party backing in Congress, though he does not care much for the legislature—in 1999, Bolsonaro said Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship “should have killed 30,000 people more, starting with Congress and [then-President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso.” Bolsonaro’s running mate is retired General Hamilton Mourão, his planning adviser and likely Minister of Transport is General Oswaldo Ferreira, an anti-environmentalist who looks for inspiration to infrastructure projects enacted by Brazil’s military government, and Bolsonaro has promised to stack his cabinet with generals. Current and retired military officers have been prominent backers of Bolsonaro, and Bolsonaro announced that he would not accept any result other than victory, menacingly saying “I cannot speak for military” but that there “could be a reaction by the Armed Forces” if he lost and deemed it due to PT fraud (never mind that the PT is not currently in power).
As Michael Albertus highlighted, the military is returning to Brazilian politics in a big way. While the military in Argentina was punished for its dictatorial Dirty War, elites with ties to dictatorship never faced sanctions or fully left the political scene in countries like Brazil and Chile. In Brazil, civilian leaders managed to weaken the military during the transition to democracy, but it retained a broad scope of activities, including internal security and development, especially in combating the drug trade, a mission with which current President Michel Temer tasked the military earlier this year in Rio de Janeiro. Bolsonaro spent his time as a representative in Congress “interested in helping the military above all else,” and his message that he will restore law and order both resonates with a Brazilian public fed up with high rates of violent crime and with a military keen to reassert itself. Continue reading