What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
6th December 20216 min

French President visits the Gulf. French President Macron undertook a tour of the gulf region intended to underline France’s influence in the region. After visiting UAE and Qatar he met Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia to discuss regional ‘stability’. Macron becomes the first of the Western leaders to meet the Crown Prince since Saudi journalist Jamal Khasoggi was murdered in 2018. When asked about the Khashoggi affair, the French president clarified “We have always been clear on the issue of human rights on this case.” Macron said dialogue with Saudi Arabia was necessary to “work for stability in the region”. The major announcement was the $19 billion defence deal with the UAE for the purchase of 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters. Commenting on the arms sale, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said: “The fighter jets will provide stability for the region.” The deal comes after Australia snubbed the Submarine Deal with France, Macron is eager to find new customers for French weapons.

NATO mulls Russian Response. The assumption was that after the demise of the USSR Russia would comprise a spent force and would slide into relative obscurity. Constituting a source of raw materials for Western and eastern industrialised nations, Russia’s fortunes have been changed by record mineral and hydrocarbon prices and once again Russia is determined to maintain its position and sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. With the very real possibility that Russia will invade Ukraine, NATO foreign ministers have met in Latvia to coordinate their response. Several  points of contention exist between Russia and Nato, including the expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine and occupation by Russian backed separatists of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula. Although most conjecture that Russia’s military deployments are simply a means to strengthen its hand in upcoming negotiations with the US, nevertheless the possibility that an aggrieved Russia returning empty-handed  from negotiations with the US will feel the need to restore its prestige and invade Ukraine cannot be dismissed.

Harvard poll shows Young Americans see US democracy as failing them. A majority of young Americans are worried about the state of democracy in the US according to a new poll of Americans (age 18-29) conducted by Harvard’s Kennedy School. 52% of the polled believed that American democracy is “in trouble,” at 39%, or “failing,” at 13%.  Not only do young people worry about the state of democracy, some also worry about a full-scale civil war erupting in America with 35% believing that they’ll see a second civil war in their lifetime. “We have twice as many young Americans describe the state of our democracy has failed as compared to being healthy,” said IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe. These trends come as US president Joe Biden will be holding a virtual democracy summit this week as confidence in democracy is at rock bottom across the western world with many turning to unorthodox political groups and individuals as they feel democracy doesn’t work for them. The fact that democracy needs a conference shows the severe problems it’s facing. 

Much at stake as Iran Nuclear Talks resume. Talks between Iran and world powers concerning Iran’s nuclear program resumed after a five month hiatus. The deal signed in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, gave Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. The US wasn’t directly involved in the first week of talks. Iran put in two statements seeking consensus, the first on Iran’s obligations and the second on the sanctions relief expected. Reports are that these were straightforward, and Iran didn’t consider either controversial. They added that once these were accepted, a third statement would be offered on assurances they wanted that the deal would be honored. The US State Department said that they prove Iran isn’t open to compromise, and that the talks are non-serious. Commentary leading upto the talks has been heated with the US saying it has “tools” to deal with Iran if the talks fail, and Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani saying that all sanctions must be lifted before Tehran returns to full compliance with 2015 agreement. As Iran’s chief negotiator, Kani will likely use all the leverage he can by reminding world powers that it was the US, under the Trump administration, that pulled out of the deal in 2018, leading to years of diplomatic impasse. We will be watching what Tehran’s diplomatic posture will look like under the more conservative Raisi.

Pentagon military posture review. A nearly 10-month Pentagon review released on Monday the 29th November provided few details on the future of the military’s global posture but said that President Joe Biden’s administration would make decisions by working with allies and looking at long-term objectives. The review is an attempt to move away from how former President Donald Trump made major decisions that impacted the military and allies – often on Twitter and with little discussions within his own administration that caught officials by surprise. The review did not lead to any major changes in the distribution of U.S. troops around the world, an official said. Rather than a large shift in resources and plans, the review, which looked at US troop locations and capabilities across the globe, ultimately concluded that no major strategic changes are needed.

UK Spy chief sees China as major threat. MI6 chief Richard Moore has warned of China’s “debt traps and data traps” in his first live broadcast interview. Talking to the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Moore believed such traps threatened to erode sovereignty and have prompted defensive measures. The decision to speak more openly about his work was important in a modern democracy, the ex-secret agent said. In a wide-ranging interview before he gave his first major public speech since taking on the role as head of MI6, the UKs spy agency. Moore warned China has the capability to “harvest data from around the world” and uses money to “get people on the hook.” He admitted the assessment of the Taliban’s progress in Afghanistan this summer was “clearly wrong” – but denied Kabul’s fall was an “intelligence failure”. He described a “chronic problem” with Russia and Ukraine – with Russia posing an “acute threat” to the UK. 

Russia-US Virtual conference. US president Joe Biden and Vladmir Putin of Russia are to meet this via video conference. The meeting comes amid rising tensions in Ukraine. Putin wanted “legal guarantees” and “concrete agreements” to halt NATO expansion eastward against the backdrop of Russia’s positioning of tens of thousands of additional troops near Ukraine’s border in recent months. US officials in recent days highlighted the Minsk agreements as Russia escalated the conflict in the Donbas region. It’s unlikely any agreements will emerge from the call, but the pair will likely reiterate their desire to hold another face-to-face meeting early next year. We will be watching for any progress on the matters at the centre of tensions.

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