Doomwatch and Geopolitics (Ukraine, Taiwan) Notes, 5 August 2022

In the natural disaster world, the big news items are the slow motion events like floods and droughts. That’s an area I’m doing some active work and research, so will try to do a more specific post in upcoming days. The usual suspects (NOAA and Colorado State University) have issued their mid-season forecasts. Here’s the NOAA update (link) – bottom line is an active season is still in the works, even though the next week looks quiet both in the Atlantic and West Pacific. The activity in the East Pacific has been staying offshore. Here is this morning’s tropical analysis: notice how quiet the Atlantic is compared to the East Pacific.

Tropical Surface Analysis from TAFB/NHC, Friday Morning 5 August 2022

Continuing to watch the spectacular new volcanic eruption in Iceland (link to live TV). But as has been the case recently the big news is what Humans are doing to each other, rather than what nature is up to.

The grind towards a likely Russian liberation/occupation (depending on your perspective) of most of eastern Ukraine continues. Your perception of what is going on depends entirely on your information sources, and all of them are either biased, incomplete, or most commonly just outright lying, so multi-source integration is essential. Amnesty International has come out with a controversial report that has annoyed the supporters of the current government of Ukraine, saying that Ukrainian tactics deliberately put civilians in danger. This supports what I’ve been saying since the beginning (and that’s 2014, not this February): Ukrainian government forces are using civilians as human shields, as well as deliberately targeting civilians in pro-Russian areas. While it has largely gone unreported in the western media, there is hard evidence over the last few days that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are deploying banned artillery delivered anti-personnel mines in to civilian areas well behind the the front lines. It’s a nasty business. To repeat myself, this is really a civil war where two parties (NATO and Russia) are supporting the two sides as proxies in their own conflict. I wrote a long piece three years ago on the background to the conflict in Ukraine that I think holds up well – please read it if you aren’t familiar with how we got here (or if you’ve only heard the prevailing narrative).

Other than revising the timeline, I don’t have much else to add with respect to the progress of the conflict in Ukraine from what I wrote last April. This probably won’t be a popular comment, but I think to a neutral observer the economy of force and attempts to avoid civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure that Russia is using in this conflict is interesting as compared to the US way of doing business. For example, power, water, and communications are still on in most of the country. Compare that with the deliberate strikes against purely civilian infrastructure by NATO in Yugoslavia. Or with the horrific impact on civilians that are routine used by the West, most of the impact of which falls on vulnerable populations and are designed to cause social unrest. That’s not to say the Russian invasion isn’t messy and brutal, but simply to provide context. The full economic ramifications of the conflict haven’t hit yet – this winter could be a long one for Europe, and those impacts will be felt here in the US as well unless some accommodations are made. And my sense is that Vladimir Vladimirovich specifically and Russia in general aren’t a forgiving mood these days.

But the bottom line is, as it has been since 2014, the situation in Ukraine is tragic, avoidable, and in the end horrific for the people caught in the middle.

Of course Ukraine isn’t the only conflict in the news. Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has triggered a major crisis that isn’t likely to calm down any time soon. Unlike Ukraine, I can’t really say too much about the specifics with any authority – China/Asia was never in my portfolio. It feels to be a similar situation to Ukraine in some ways – an ongoing civil war, albeit currently not a hot war – and yet the US is on the “other” side. It seems a bit hypocritical to support the right of determination for the people of Taiwan yet not support the right of the people of Donbas to do the same. My sympathies are somewhat with Taiwan, but it is a complex situation and I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to take a firm stand.

Taylor’s “The Generalissimo” is a good background on all this. Even though Bǫðvarr Bjarki was bored.

What is almost certainly similar is that the US is approaching the crisis with the neoconservative theory of American Exceptionalism. The whole way the trip was announced and implemented was incredibly provocative and dangerous. It didn’t have to be that way – there were many ways Pelosi could have done this, even travel to Taiwan, that would have been less provocative. If it was planned, it was a stupid plan, but I suspect like most US Foreign Policy actions it was less planned than just happened as politicians make short term, selfish calculations and the professionals are left scrambling to mitigate the consequences.

So that’s a quick review of where I think things stand. Any of the above (except Taiwan) could be a full blown post or five, but I have work to do before the height of the storm season hits …

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