What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
20th September 202110 min

AUKUS Trilateral deal. France has recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia in a fit of rage after they were snubbed out of a $50 billion deal which is widely seen as a means to contain China. This marks the first instance since diplomatic relations began in 1778 between America and France that an ambassador has been recalled. The deal which was signed on Thursday 16 Sep, will be a joint venture between US, UK and Australia which will see Australia supplied with 10 nuclear-powered (not nuclear weapons equipped) submarines. The deal came as a “stab in the back” to France who viewed their “relationship of trust” with Australia as part of their wider strategy in the region. Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign minister responded by describing the deal as one that seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race.” We will be watching how China responds as she is now surrounded by US allies .

US apologises to family killed in drone attacks. After almost 3 weeks since the incident, the US finally admitted that no ISIS-K combatants were killed in a drone strike in a residential area. The US promised reparations to the family in which 7 children as young as 2 years old were killed. Many commentators have noted the likelihood of this being a frequent occurrence in drone strikes and the only reason why an independent investigation, conducted by the New York Times, took place was because the driver was a long time US aid worker. The “suspicious activity” picked up by the US military was supposedly loading explosives into a car after a visit to an “ISIS safehouse”. These explosives turned out to be water canisters for said driver’s now deceased family. The event brings into serious question the American military intelligence and how many of the thousands of drone strikes launched in Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority countries were also “righteous strikes”. The incident will likely be remembered as a final chapter in America’s horrendous legacy in Afghanistan.

North Korea tests new missiles. North Korea has tested a new long-range cruise missile capable of hitting much of Japan. The tests saw missiles travelling up to 930 miles, the official KCNA news agency said. It suggests North Korea is still capable of developing weapons despite food shortages and an economic crisis. The US military said the latest tests posed threats to the international community, and neighbouring Japan said it had “significant concerns”. A picture in the North Korean Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed a missile being fired from a launch vehicle, while another could be seen in horizontal flight. The missiles are a “strategic weapon of great significance,” the KCNA agency said. North Korea uses missile tests for posturing purposes and usually greets new US presidents with such provocations, but due to internal issues it has been rather quiet in 2021.

Israeli PM meets Sisi in Egypt. Israeli PM Naftali Bennett met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for talks, the first in a decade. Bennett, the head of the far-right Yamina party who took office in June, met the Egyptian president on Monday 13 Sep, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. In the discussions, el-Sisi cited Egypt’s efforts to maintain calm in the occupied Palestinian territories and the importance of international support for rebuilding efforts there, according to an Egyptian presidency statement. El-Sisi also “affirmed Egypt’s support for all efforts to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East, according to the two-state solution”, the statement said. Bennett said the talks covered diplomacy, security and the economy. “We created a foundation for a deep connection going forward,” he said before flying home. These talks come in the context of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the verge of collapse due to corruption, incompetence and being seen to be too close to Israel.  Bennet recently met with Mahmoud Abbas, a rare event in itself.

Scottish independence referendum.  The leader of the Scottish National party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, has asked the UK government to agree to another Scottish independence referendum “in the spirit of cooperation” in her speech at the party’s national conference. Sturgeon called for a second referendum by the end of 2023, at a time when it’s hoped the coronavirus pandemic is “under control.” The SNP leader insisted she has an “unarguable mandate” to hold a second independence vote, adding: “People in Scotland have the right to make that choice,” she argued. “The United Kingdom is after all a voluntary union of nations.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously signalled he does not support a second Scottish referendum. With Britain now out of the EU, calls will continue to grow for Scottish independence. We will be watching how Westminster navigates this challenge as it tries to maintain a united Great Britain.

IMF Offers Lebanon $1 billion. Lebanon’s finance ministry confirmed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will allocate $1.135 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to the country’s central bank. Lebanon was in financial straits before the Port explosion caused a financial rupture in 2020. Decades of corruption and mismanagement has caused misery for the masses. But The SDR allocation will only provide a small buffer for Lebanon’s depleted financial reserves. It will do little to ease the country’s economic crisis, serving more as a stopgap measure. Despite the recent formation of a new Lebanese government, the IMF wants deeper reforms in order for it to provide larger funds but these reforms will challenge Lebanon’s sectarian Cabinet. 

Western Balkans to join the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on an official visit to the Balkans on 13 Sep, said it is one of Germany’s goals to see the six Western Balkan states join the European Union. Whilst she added there was some way to go for this goal. At a joint news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Merkal said “We, who are already members of the European Union, should keep in mind that there is an absolute geostrategic interest for us to include these countries in the European Union.” Whilst Merkal made these remarks on her farewell tour as she steps down as German chancellor in two weeks, for the EU expanding the union remains a strategic matter especially as  nationalism in many EU member nations is challenging the federal values of the bloc. With the departure of Britain from the EU the Balkans remains one of few European territories that the EU can expand into.

The QUAD meeting. US President Joe Biden will host the first face-to-face meeting of leaders of the Quad partnership on Sept. 24, who all see China’s growing assertiveness as a major threat in the Indo-Pacific. The United States is looking to strengthen ties with key allies as China takes an increasingly assertive role in the Indo-Pacific region. After its drawdown from Afghanistan, the US is giving full and extensive priority on containing China. After forming AUKUS to beef up Australia’s military capabilities on the face of China, it is holding a quad summit to strengthen its containment strategy against China. We will be watching for any announcements of India’s role as well as any specific policy announcements. In the context of AUKUS we will be watching for any integration of the Quad with the new AUKUS alliance.

France warns Mali against Russian Wagner mercenary deal. French Defence Minister Florence Parly has warned Mali against a deal with Russian private security group Wagner amid claims the country’s military government is close to hiring 1,000 mercenaries. Two French sources told the AFP news agency that the Malian government was nearing a deal with the controversial Russian firm, which would place Russia at the heart of the Sahel region. “If the Malian authorities entered into a contract with Wagner, it would be extremely worrying and contradictory, incoherent with everything that we have done for years and we intend to do to support the countries of the Sahel region,” Parly told a parliamentary commission. A spokesperson for the Malian defence ministry did not deny the discussions, which were first reported by the Reuters news agency. “Mali intends to diversify its relationships in the medium term to ensure the security of the country,” the spokesperson told AFP. “We haven’t signed anything with Wagner, but we are talking with everyone.” Four sources told Reuters that the Wagner Group would be paid about six billion CFA francs ($10.8m) a month for its services, and that the mercenaries’ presence would jeopardise Mali’s funding from the international partners and allied training missions that have helped rebuild Mali’s army. Russia has been looking to expand its presence in Africa but it’s found little success in the Sahel region until recently.

Japan holds large-scale military drills. Japan on Wednesday 15th Sep, began a large-scale military exercise, the biggest in decades with the participation of 100,000 personnel, 20,000 vehicles and 120 aircrafts. A statement by Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) said that the “Ground Self-Defense Force Exercise” will continue until the end of November. “This exercise is a large-scale exercise for the entire Ground Self-Defense Force for the first time in 30 years since 1993, focusing on the operational preparatory stage, improving operational effectiveness and deterrence/coping ability” the statement said. The military exercise is being held at a time when the US and its allies are shoring up support to counter China’s expanding military and economic influence in the region.

China bids for CPTPP membership. China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on Thursday 16 Sep. China has been engaged in backchannel discussions for much of the past year. This was rather baffling as the CPTPP was set up as a strategic bloc to limit China. If China has managed to gain support this would be a significant development. If it is true it would mean that the members of the bloc see Chinese economic preeminence in the region as unavoidable.

Iran joins the SCO. A leaders’ summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, consisting of China, Russia and five South and Central Asian nations, officially approved Iran’s application for membership. The SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance originally established to ensure security and maintain stability across the vast Eurasian region, join forces to counteract emerging challenges and threats, and enhance trade, as well as cultural and humanitarian cooperation. The SCO has sometimes been presented as Asia’s NATO and for both Russia and China its the only organisation they can claim they lead.

‘Three Brothers’ joint military exercises. As part of their tripartite military cooperation, Turkey, Pakistan and Azerbaijan began eight-day joint military drills on Sunday Sept. 12. The “Three Brothers — 2021” exercises were held in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku with the aim of “further strengthening the existing ties” between the three armies and helping them find new ways to fight terrorism in the region, according to an official readout. Pakistan and Turkey provided support to Azerbaijan during the 44-day-long Second Karabakh War last September in which Azerbaijan fought against Armenian armed forces until the conclusion of a Russia-brokered truce in November. In the declaration, the parties supported each other’s territorial integrity and underlined their respective priorities, with overt support to Azerbaijan in its moves on Karabakh, to Pakistan in its conflict over Jammu and Kashmir, and to Turkey in the settlement of Cyprus, Aegean and East Mediterranean disputes. 


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