Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Violence against Myanmar’s protesters escalates, the ICC chief prosecutor plans to probe alleged war crimes committed in Palestinian territories, and OPEC+ meets to decide oil output.
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Myanmar Violence Escalates in Bloodiest Day Yet
At least 38 people were killed in Myanmar on Wednesday as military forces dramatically escalated their use of violence against protesters. The overall death toll in the past month has now eclipsed the official toll of those who died in the country’s so-called Saffron Revolution, which lasted for three months in 2007 before a crackdown by the military, also known as the Tatmadaw.
Those killed on Wednesday include at least four children, according to a statement from Save the Children.
The speed with which the violence has increased over the past week is an indication that international efforts to deescalate tensions following the Feb. 1 military coup have been unsuccessful.
Tatmadaw defiant. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy on Myanmar, said the killings marked the “bloodiest day” since the coup. She also outlined how her conversation with Myanmar’s deputy military chief Soe Win went when she warned that more sanctions could be coming for the country’s military leaders. “The answer was: ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived’,” she said. “When I also warned they will go in an isolation, the answer was: ‘We have to learn to walk with only few friends.’”
Even those few friends—notably China, India, Japan, and Singapore—have so far proved unwilling, or simply unable, to convince the military to walk back its power grab.
Dark days ahead. While the bravery of the millions who have taken to the streets shows no sign of ebbing and the military show no appetite to back down, more bloody days must be expected. In the longer term, the options for the United States to exercise influence are limited, but not hopeless. As Foreign Policy columnist Stephen M. Walt explains, the Biden administration, along with its allies, could offer a balance to Myanmar’s increasing dependence on China, an issue that unnerves the junta, as an incentive for Myanmar’s military to alter its repressive course.
What We’re Following Today
Israel condemns ICC investigation. The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has announced plans to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli forces and Hamas in the Palestinian territories from June 2014 onwards. The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry referred to the move as a “long-awaited step,” while Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned it as “scandalous.”
In a statement referring to the Palestinian “situation,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken opposed the ICC decision and questioned its jurisdiction. Writing in Foreign Policy, Sari Bashi gives an overview of the “complicated” relationship the United States has always had with the ICC and calls for the lifting of Trump-era sanctions on its officials.
OPEC+ meets. OPEC+ member states meet today to decide on oil production levels for the coming months, as oil prices have recovered from the dramatic drops seen last year. With producers confident of a recovery in the global economy in the coming year, an increase in overall output is likely, Bloomberg reports, but the exact terms will be decided on today.
AfD under surveillance. Germany’s domestic intelligence service has placed the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) under surveillance over its links to extremism. It is the first time in the country’s postwar history that a democratically elected party has been targeted under laws in place to protect the German constitution. AfD leaders have accused the German state of acting “purely politically” with federal elections approaching in September.
Capitol police issue warning. The police force responsible for securing the U.S. Capitol has warned of a possible plot to storm government buildings today, citing recent intelligence it received. March 4 is a popular date among followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory due to its connection to the supposed return of Donald Trump as president, although the Daily Beast reports that main influencers within the movement now dismiss the date’s significance.
The news came as the acting chief of U.S. Capitol Police asked for a 21 percent increase in the force’s budget to cover security upgrades. The U.S. Capitol complex remains ringed by high security fences, with 5,000 National Guard troops providing additional protection.
Freedom’s decline. Less than 20 percent of the world’s population now lives in what Freedom House describes as “free” countries according to the think tank’s latest report, the lowest proportion since 1995. The drop was driven in part by the designation of India as only “partly free,” in response to the government’s increasingly anti-Muslim position and a crackdown on dissent. In the ranking of 151 countries, Freedom House found that roughly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country where rights and freedoms declined over the past year.
U.S. war powers. A bipartisan pair of U.S. Senators have introduced a bill to enhance the power of Congress to authorize military actions, following the Biden administration’s decision to bomb Iranian-linked targets in Syria last week. The bill would repeal two authorizations for the use of military force, in place since 1991 and 2002 respectively, that have been used by successive presidents as legal pretexts for military action in the region.
Israel’s oil spill. Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel has blamed Iran for causing a major oil spill on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline last month, citing the findings of a two-week investigation into its cause. Gamliel said the spill was traced to a Libyan tanker that had recently stopped at an Iranian port. Haaretz reports that Israeli naval and intelligence officials expressed skepticism about Gamliel’s claims, which come three weeks before an election, and said they were not involved in the investigation.
Thailand’s navy saved four cats on Tuesday in a daring rescue mission after a sharp-eyed sailor spotted the felines on a sinking ship. The navy had previously evacuated the vessel’s human crew before noticing the cats huddled on a wooden beam while inspecting the ship for fuel leaks. A Thai sailor swam to the cats’ rescue, perching them on his shoulders while his team pulled him by a rope to safety. The cats are now in the care of their saviors at the navy command post on Koh Lipe island.
That’s it for today.
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