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Forecast podcast: South Korea axes military pact with North Korea over trash-laden balloons

Two large white heart-shaped balloons tied to a weight on one side; scattered trash on an asphalt surface on the other.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Vivian Wang discuss North Korea’s recent launches of trash-filled balloons into South Korea, plus more on U.S. military training in the Pacific, Israel’s Benny Gantz threatening to leave the war cabinet, elections by Syrian Kurdish groups and a G7 summit in Italy.

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Vivian Wang, Joe Veyera, Owen Bonertz, Ahmed Namatalla and Agnese Boffano. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is June 6.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got trash-filled balloons from North Korea, a military exercise in the Pacific, Israel’s Benny Gantz threatening to leave the war cabinet, elections by Syrian Kurdish groups and a G7 summit in Italy.  

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

South Korea suspends peace deal with North Korea over trash balloons

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to trash balloons. For more on that I’ve got fellow Factal editor Vivian Wang.

JIMMY: Hello, Vivian.

VIVIAN: Hi, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Did I read that correctly?? We’re going to talk about balloons and garbage? What in the world is going on? 

VIVIAN: Yeah, inter-Korean relations have gone in a really interesting direction. North Korea sent about a 1,000 big balloons carrying bags of trash over the border into South Korea over the past week or so, possibly even more according to the North Koreans themselves. They’re thankfully not carrying anything dangerous, according to South Korea, mostly cigarette butts, cloth scraps, waste paper and manure – suspected poop. But it’s still an unusual nuisance – the balloons travel pretty far past the border and they’ve broken at least one car’s windshield. North Korea says they sent the balloons in direct retaliation, actually, to balloons coming from South Korea. The South Korean government doesn’t send them, but  activists, who are private citizens, often hold leaflet campaigns, where they send, of course, balloons, carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda and USB drives loaded with K-pop music and South Korean TV shows. It’s a very symbolic eye-for-an-eye type confrontation for North and South Korea.

JIMMY: Well, how are things going now? Are there any new developments?

VIVIAN: Well, North Korea actually said they’d stop sending the balloons, saying they’ve made their point pretty clear, but they also did threaten to start back up again if any more leaflet campaigns come through from South Korea. And of course the big development is that South Korea went ahead and fully suspended a set of military agreements that North and South Korea made a deal on back in 2018, that were supposed to reduce tensions. That deal was already on shaky ground over the past couple of years, in no small part because North Korea has undertaken some pretty provocative activity, firing missiles and spy satellites and such, plus the current, conservative South Korean government isn’t very friendly to North Korea to begin with. But the trash balloons were the last straw apparently.

JIMMY: Well what kind of reactions have you seen to all this?

VIVIAN: I haven’t seen a whole lot of international reaction to the balloons, but South Koreans, especially some residents near the border with North Korea, are understandably pretty upset by raining trash. The civic groups and residents in question are actually calling on both the leaflet activists and North Korea to stop their antics so that tensions don’t increase even more, and presumably so that they don’t have to deal with it. But those campaigns are likely to continue – they’re actually a protected form of free speech in South Korea, after a case ruled in favor of the activists last year. At least one group of them did say something along the lines of “we’ll think about temporarily stopping if Kim Jong Un apologizes” but that seems unlikely. 

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next then? 

VIVIAN: Well I guess watch for more balloons on either side, and for tensions to increase on the Korean peninsula because it’s not looking like there’s a graceful way to de-escalate. South Korea’s already talking about redeploying the infamous propaganda loudspeakers and resuming military operations near the border. And that of course will be used as justification for more North Korean military activity, and so on and so forth. Most recently, South Korea just reported that they’ve seen evidence that North Korea is demolishing part of what was supposed to be an inter-Korean railway – it’s looking like North Korea is moving away from any attempts to unify and cooperate with their neighbors in the South.

JIMMY: Well, Vivian, I guess we’ll pause there for today then, but as always, thank you so much for getting us up to speed. [I] appreciate it.

VIVIAN: Thanks for having me on again.

U.S. military training in the Pacific

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: The 10th iteration of the Valiant Shield military exercise will begin Friday. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces will be participating for the first time

The exercise takes place every other year and is one of the largest training operations in the Pacific.

As part of this year’s exercises, the U.S. Armed Forces’ Indo-Pacific Command intends to test a prototype of its Joint Fires Network, which connects all military branches into a unified system.

Feedback from the large-scale exercise will be used later to help inform future budget and acquisition processes.

Now, this year’s exercise comes as China exerts increased pressure on Taiwan. 

Pressure that follows the election of Lai Ching-te as president

Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party doesn’t seek independence from China, rather it maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation.

Israel’s Benny Gantz threatens to leave war cabinet

Information compiled by Owen Bonertz

JIMMY: Centrist and Israeli politics mainstay Benny Gantz has threatened to withdraw from the country’s war cabinet by Saturday.

That is, if a comprehensive post-war plan for Gaza is not agreed upon.

The current war cabinet consists of longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his allied defense minister Yoav Gallant, centrist opposition leader Gantz, and three observers. 

Israel’s war cabinet was formed days after the Oct. 7 attacks, in an effort to streamline the country’s notoriously unstable politics during the crisis. 

And as the war approaches its 250th day, Netanyahu’s coalition shows signs of dissolving. 

That, as the right wing attempts to block a potential hostage deal with Hamas, and as Gantz pushes for a post-war plan.

Now, since Gantz’s opposition coalition broke apart in March, his National Unity party lacks the votes to bring down Netanyahu’s government by themselves. 

Nevertheless, Gantz has put forward a bill to dissolve the Knesset with the hope that they can convince the country’s far-right to join them. 

It is possible, however, that losing Gantz’s support doesn’t bring down the war cabinet, and instead just shifts the entire government closer to the far-right, likely meaning a more aggressive war effort. 

Syrian Kurdistan election

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: The de facto autonomous region in north and east Syria is planning to hold municipal elections Tuesday.

The move is under critical scrutiny of the United States which is a major ally of the Syrian Democratic Forces that control the mostly Kurdish region.

The move also risks a military response from Turkey.

Turkey considers the SDF-led northeast Syria a national security threat linked to its own Kurdish population.

Unlike Kurds across the border in northern Iraq, Syria’s Kurds don’t enjoy central government support.

In addition to attacks by the Turkish military, some 2 million people in the Syrian northeast suffer from a severe lack of services. Much of their infrastructure was damaged by strong earthquakes in early 2023.

Now, Turkey views the planned Syrian Kurdish vote as an attempt to strengthen Kurdish claims over a stretch of land that includes Turkish territory. Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency since the 1980s.

The US has called on Kurdish authorities to postpone the vote, claiming that conditions for “free, fair, transparent and inclusive” polls haven’t been met.

The possible escalation of military conflict in northeastern Syria would add a new layer to an inflamed proxy war in the region. One where US-backed Israel occasionally bombs targets belonging to Syria’s Iran-backed government.

Italy hosts G7 summit

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: Italy is set to host the 50th G7 summit starting next Thursday.

Italy holds the rotating presidency for the G7 this year.

The summit brings together leaders from the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K., Germany, Italy and Japan as well as the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission representing the European Union.

Other world officials have announced their intention to join the informal forum, including Turkey’s President Erdogan.

There are also reports suggesting other controversial officials like Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will also be in attendance.

Now, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said this year’s key agenda points will include supporting African development as a means to tackle rising illegal migration levels into Europe.

Leaders will also discuss the dangers of artificial intelligence, with Pope Francis set to be a key speaker on that topic. 

On the side of ongoing conflicts, the war in Ukraine and in Gaza are both set to be a top priority for discussion.

In fact, G7 leaders published a joint statement this week “fully endorsing” the Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by US President Biden. 

That proposal, however, is yet to be agreed upon by both Hamas and Israel.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Owen Bonertz, Ahmed Namatalla and Agnese Boffano. Our interview featured editor Vivian Wang and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

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Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe